Sunday, September 6, 2009

STbtM 040: Engines at Maximum Warp

Previous: STbtM 039: Stalled Flagship

In a more straight-sounding voice, the helmsman turns to face the skipper and reports: "I'm Hikaru Sulu." Pike posits: "…and you are a pilot, right?" Sulu flashes a sheepish grin and replies: "Very much so sir," as he swivels his seat back to forward, and stammers "I'm…uh, not sure what's wrong…" Pike looks around at the Bridge crew and jokingly asks: "Is the parking brake on?" Sulu chuckles "Um no – I'll figure it out, it's just…" Spock at this point cuts in with "Did you disengage the external inertial dampeners?" and we get another closeup of Zachary Quinto with those fabulous Spock ears, they really do look great. Mortified, Sulu stares incredulously ahead as his hands operate the controls by automatic reflex. Summoning what courage he can, he announces with unconvincing bravado: "Ready for warp, Sir." Pike smiles back "Let's punch it," and the silly boat throttles are pushed forward again. I suppose that having a new kid at the helm of an unfamiliar ship might be a fig leaf of an excuse for an obvious blunder, but the simple fact is that a mistake like that would fail a pilot today for a simple passenger certification on merely a private jet. Are we to believe that standards are so low, that skills less competent than the minimum for a small aircraft today are going to be considered acceptable for the Flagship of a Federation / Starfleet armada? Hundreds, and perhaps billions of lives could depend on this ship's actions, and the person at the helm is unable to follow basic standard procedures without error?

This time, the heavily-chromed controls work, and from behind the captain's Chair, we see a nice stretching effect of going to warp, although having the image red-shift into the distance would be slightly more scientifically correct for what they appear to be trying to show. Externally, the Enterprise whips past us, and we quickly cut to Bones dragging in Kirk from one of another lift with lighting capable of producing crunchy brownies in 10 minutes. Kirk apparently can not only get drinks in bars faster than a Maxim cover model, he can also change clothes much faster than they do, even when that's their job, and in spite of being so clumsy he is unable to stand, but this seems merely a normal continuity error nearly all films have. Kirk asks: "Where are we?" "Medical bay." This exchange seems like the sort of thing that a real estate agent would love to have with a potential buyer touring a home. Normally when showing a home, agents will tell perfectly normal, intelligent people: "This is a kitchen…and here is the bathroom" as if people do not recognize such rooms when they enter them. You would think that all the staff in medical uniforms, medical equipment, examination tables and lights, etc. would be sufficient for a halfway conscious person, even without years of Starfleet Academy training (which increasingly seems unable to actually teach anything), but perhaps it was felt that fans of the film would need this location information spelled out, and evidence supports that impression of fans was, in some measure, accurate.

Kirk asks "This is worth it?" McCoy tells him "A little suffering is good for the soul," as Kirk tries to flirt with a nurse, offering "Hi, how ya doing?" I'm pretty sure I would not want to serve in this timeline's Starfleet: officers and crew routinely refer to supernatural, invisible friends as "God" and doctors who talk about "souls" is troubling. For example, if one believes in an eternal soul, treating and protecting that would be much more important than the physical shell they inhabit for the wink of an eye. That shell is going to die anyway, so medicine is largely futile in the grand scheme. There was a time when this model of reality was popular, and one result was that burning people's living bodies in order to save their eternal souls was deemed by the best minds to be virtuous, or sometimes even heroic. I would really prefer a scientifically minded doctor who looks at the world more conservatively, preferring empiricism to religion based magic. Mother Theresa may have preached enduring the hardships of infirmities as the path to God for others, but even she always chose the best science-based medicine for her own ailments, but of course with an unlimited expense account, such care is easy to afford.

"My mouth is itchy, is that normal?" Clearly, the whole Levaran Mud Flea vaccine sequence is intended to be humorous, but like the characters, effects, soundtrack and drama, I was unable to overlook the profound problems in the story and appreciate the humor, which came off as poorly done buffoonery but then again, I admittedly hated what I saw of "Married with Children", despite its status as THE top show last time I checked sitcoms, and to this day I'm unable to enjoy practical joke shows where unsuspecting people are actually terrorized and frightened for profits and amusement. One can't help but suspect fans of this film appreciate and enjoy prank shows as medical shenanigans, pain, and loss of motor control are apparently considered appropriate material for jokes. McCoy advises Kirk that "Those symptoms aren't going to last long. Let me give you a mild sedative." Kirk, in obvious pain, groans: "I wish I didn't know you." "Don't be such a such an infant," Bones admonishes, before slamming a hypo into Kirk's neck. Our future skipper yowls and convulses before slurring "How long's it supposed to taaayyy…." At which point he flops over backwards on the table, unconscious." (39:50) "Unbelievable!" scoffs McCoy. This is a pretty arrogant doctor; without good reason, he has just violated medical ethics in an effort to smuggle a personal friend aboard a starship in the middle of an emergency rescue operation, and he chose to do this by using an exotic vaccine with potentially dangerous side effects in order to defy the rules of the Academy for cadets. This doesn't seem much in character, if character actions are assumed to have some rationality or consistency associated with them. If McCoy's love of Kirk is so great that he just couldn't handle Kirk feeling forlorn about not being pulled from the Academy for the rescue, he certainly has changed his tune with Kirk showing and reporting major discomfort, and possible warning signs. Showing great concern for a friend's minor disappointment but ignoring their medical complaints that could indicate a threat to their life seems more than a tad inconsistent. Aside from this, the actual level of joke makes the old slipping on a banana peel gag seem like Kovacian genius!

We cut to the bridge, where Sulu reports: "engines at maximum warp, Captain" a ridiculous and useless statement. Pike says: "Russian whiz kid, what's your name? Chenko? Chirpov?" The navigator turns around and in a fabulous Russian accent he proclaims "Ensign Chekov, Pavel Andreievich, sir." "Fine Chekov, Pavel Andreievich, begin shipwide mission broadcasts." Apparently, "whiz kid" is exposition clumsily inserted to foreshadow HIS inexplicable abilities, unlikely posting to navigation of the Federation flagship, and because this film doesn't bother to actually develop characters, the whole film just weaves one miraculous coincidence after another, regardless of how unlikely. It's kind of like believing oneself to be one of God's chosen race: irrational, arrogant, and self serving - but a habit that you'll probably be able to use without getting called on it if you talk fast enough. One interesting note is that this Chekov and Walter Koenig are both come from Jewish Russian ancestors.

A few women are in miniskirts as scenery, but only men speak in this segment.

Next: STbtM 041: Kirk's ESP


20 comments:

Flashman85 said...

I've disagreed about everything you've said so far concerning religion, faith, etc., but what's most relevant here is that I'm sensing an erroneous assumption emanating from this part of the post:

"For example, if one believes in an eternal soul, treating and protecting that would be much more important than the physical shell they inhabit for the wink of an eye. That shell is going to die anyway, so medicine is largely futile in the grand scheme."

Consider the egg, if you will. The yolk will go on to be used in a glorious omelet, but the shell will be broken and thrown away. Clearly, the yolk is the most important part of the egg. Therefore, protecting the yolk is more important than protecting the shell from cracking and leaking yolk all over the place before we get to the frying pan.

How does one treat and protect an eternal soul if one is too ill (or too dead) to focus on preparing one's soul for the rest of eternity?

Also problematic is the fact that we are now egg people.

Aside from that, not every use of the word "soul" need be taken literally. McCoy's line is more than likely a joke referencing "The Corbomite Maneuver":

KIRK: "Aren't you the one that always says a little suffering is good for the soul?"
MCCOY: "I never say that."

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Flash,

Very interesting analogy.

If we want an omelet, we would not keep an egg until its shell or yolk starts to rot and eventually cannot be kept intact, (the analog to human decline and death), we would make the omelet as freshly as possible.

The problems with the analogy are that we have not one single reliable corn-flake of evidence to suggest a soul exists, a place for it to do so, a purpose or intent, even a distinguishing feature that allows us to identify a "soul".

This lies in stark contrast with an egg yolk, doesn't it?

It makes it very difficult for a more or less scientific and fair-minded seeker of truth to move forward. How does one determine whether one is an egg person? How does one assess the level of "preparedness" for something that appears non-existent?

Perhaps you can help me understand by answering a more similar analogy: How would you answer me if I asserted the metaphasic overmind: an all-powerful multidimensional intelligence which created our universe for the purpose of returning human life energy patterns to itself by death; The more people dying, the better. Our lives and entire universe exist for this purpose. I argue that having lots of kids, even with the knowledge they will die in agony is a moral duty because we and our universe were created for this purpose, or I argue that my religion holds that the overmind prefers prime life-force energy so, like Logan's Run, everyone is killed before their 30th birthday. I'm sure you would consider my view ridiculous, but I'm curious as to the reasons you would give...or might you simply feel that giving reasons would be inappropriate and dismiss or ignore the issue?

I'm very interested to learn your thoughts.

Flashman85 said...

Hi BurntSynapse,

Actually, I'd say the problem with my analogy is that I chose to compare something people believe to be eternal with something that has a limited shelf life, and you do an excellent job of pointing that out. However, whether or not there's any evidence to suggest a soul exists is largely irrelevant here; the example you give in the original post, which I quoted previously, supposes that an eternal soul does exist (at least to the person who believes in one), and I'm using that supposition as my starting point.

What I was getting at with the egg analogy was that it doesn't necessarily make sense to devalue medicine if one believes in an eternal soul. Saying that "treating and protecting [the soul] would be much more important than the physical shell they inhabit for the wink of an eye," the way I'm reading it, is like saying that protecting the yolk is far more important than protecting the shell that protects the yolk.

Doesn't the shell protect the yolk already? Wouldn't a healthy body that houses a soul do a better job of protecting and nurturing the soul than a failing, unhealthy, or dead one? A sturdy shell helps you get the egg to the frying pan in the condition you want, and a healthy body gives you the ability to bring your soul to the afterlife in the condition you want.

Clearly, the egg metaphor isn't perfect, and I myself am making several assumptions in my explanation, but if one believes in a soul and it is at all possible for one to treat and protect this soul while one is among the living, then it would make sense to have as few physical hindrances as possible to facilitate one's ability to nurture the soul. Medicine would hardly be futile in such a situation.

Regarding your hypothetical assertion of the metaphasic overmind, I was a religion major at college and an avid Dungeons & Dragons player with a healthy appreciation for sci-fi and fantasy; there are very few religions, philosophies, or worldviews that seem outright ridiculous to me. Strange or intriguing, perhaps, even flawed or misguided, but there's generally a good explanation for how the view in question came about, and why someone would entertain it.

In the case of your metaphasic overmind (which I would have eagerly done a report on in college, by the way), I might first inquire about how anyone would know of this metaphasic overmind and its purpose for the universe. I might also ask you how you came to believe in it, and/or why you still believe in it now.

I rarely dismiss any view or opinion that is thoughtfully formed and holds up even after thorough examination, so if you've got a solid explanation and rationale for your belief in the metaphasic overmind, and I can't disprove what you're saying, then you'll at least have earned my respect, even if the view you hold would be absurd or impossible for me to embrace, and even if I think you're just plain wrong.

BurntSynapse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BurntSynapse said...

Hi Flash,

I disagree the problem with the analogy is comparing a temporal egg to an eternal soul per se. I perceive a common, primary source of problems for rational discussion: lack of a clear definition regarding the soul. This leads to things like contradictory attributes ascribed to the soul, described as eternal, but also given temporal characteristics, such as an implication that there are better or worse times for God to collect or damn the soul, i.e.: its condition changes for better or worse over time.

Certainly, if we lack a clear definition of a term, no conclusions must be drawn out of logical necessity, since we have nothing upon which logical reasoning can be founded. Thus you are quite correct to point out that "it doesn't necessarily make sense to devalue medicine if one believes in an eternal soul."

The downside of having no definitive rules for determining what is or is not a soul is that we are literally talking gibberish. True, it doesn't necessarily make sense to devalue medicine if one believes in an eternal soul but then, we cannot necessarily conclude the opposite either. No logical criticism of either position would be valid for similar reasons, although we might say we disagree or find some claim ugly, unappealing, or use other fallacies to support or oppose any position. We would undercut any possibility of rational and productive dialog.

In my earlier posts, I was assuming a common and traditional Judeo-Christian definition of a soul as the distinctive and most important aspect for human life, according to mainstream versions of the mythologies.

You ask if the shell protects the yolk and I would respond that if our goal is the omelet, it is simply an obstacle. As for the soul: without specifics we have no reason to believe the soul is somehow protected by the body, and no reason to believe it is not.

You ask if a healthy body would be better protection and again, without definitions of what it is to which we refer, no answer can be rationally produced. We may agree to your answer "yes", or criticize it just as validly as earlier by stating: "It doesn't necessarily make sense to need a healthy body to bring a soul to the afterlife in the condition you want". Absent specific characteristics of a soul, our respective objections are both are equally valid, or equally flawed. This is why scientists and philosophers take definitions very seriously: they are forced to do so in order to identify problems and produce valid conclusions.

BurntSynapse said...

Also, simply "believing in a soul’s existence" tells us nothing about what for it, constitutes "a treat", "protection", "nurturing", etc. Presumably, souls don't have unconsciousness inherent to vertebrate brains, and they can think without circuitry for thinking, see without light, eyes, visual cortices, etc. They presumably hear and can sense telepathic prayers, messages from gods, saints, angels, demons, and the devil without a nervous system, and so on. These are much superior abilities than the soul possesses while imprisoned in this mortal coil. So, if we assume a traditional conceptualization of a soul, removing as many physical hindrances as possible to facilitate one's ability to nurture the soul can be best accomplished by "purging" the blinding, corrupting, limiting influences of the flesh - as was reasoned out in the past and believed necessary to save the souls of witches. That's why witches were burned: it was a horrible thing, but the faithful knew that it was the only way to save the immortal soul. This was a nurturing act of mercy, and for those with similar "presuppositions" to those proposed in our discussion, no logical objection could be raised either for or against the recommendation that has better merit than any other.

Your reaction to the metaphasic overmind is fairly normal: with skeptical, reasonable questions which are all but impossible to pose to ourselves regarding our own beliefs which we've accepted and to which we have emotional attachment.

I could answer any and all questions about the overmind with analogs of traditional beliefs: ancient wisdom and texts, personal revelation, testimonials, anecdotes, inspiration, good works, happiness, certainty, and comfort that come from belief, claims of uniqueness, bribes of immortality, extortion based on failure to accept the beliefs, etc. All of these are properly rejected by honest seekers of the truth.

We devalue our loyalty respecting people simply because they can justify an unfalsifiable view with fallacious support. You should not grant support or respect to me because I make claims you can’t disprove. It is intellectually corrupt and a form of theft to hold greater certainty than the evidence grants, and many beliefs not only commit this error, but make it a virtue: such as "my country right or wrong", psychic powers, or in this case: faith in ancient supernatural mythologies.

It is also a dangerous threat to our species prospects for survival, and the development of ourselves and our civilization.

BurntSynapse said...

Flashman85 has left a new comment on your post "STbtM 040: Engines at Maximum Warp":

I once again concede that the egg comparison is imperfect in many regards, though the general gist of it seemed appropriate enough to me at the time. I also agree that we need clear definitions for rational discussion.

You say you were assuming a "common and traditional Judeo-Christian definition of a soul as the distinctive and most important aspect for human life"; could you elaborate on how you came to find or derive this definition? I want to make sure we're both looking at the same "mainstream versions of the mythologies" to ensure a rational and productive dialogue.

I'm surprised that you think my reaction to the metaphasic overmind is fairly normal, especially after saying you were sure I'd find your hypothetical view ridiculous. The options you presented me with were to either count you as a weirdo and avoid conversation about the topic, or assume from the get-go that you were wrong and proceed to explain to you exactly why. I'm not saying that there weren't other options, but giving you a fair chance to explain yourself and judging your beliefs on the merits of the explanations you gave me didn't seem to be a very likely reaction at all.

As an honest seeker of truth, I'm open to the possibility that I haven't yet found the truth. And so that we're clear, the truth I'm referring to is the nature of life, the universe, and everything--whether we're all destined to be "fed" to the metaphasic overmind, or we're all part of an elaborate computer program like the Matrix, or we're simply carbon-based lifeforms with no specific purpose and nothing waiting for us beyond death. If you approach me with a belief I know nothing about, I owe it to myself to hear you out, because you just might be right.

I never meant to suggest that I would respect you simply because you've justified an unfalsifiable view with fallacious support. I would respect you for having an opinion that, as I said, is "thoughtfully formed and holds up even after thorough examination." It was a mistake on my part to add, "and I can't disprove what you're saying," because I intended that to mean, "your reasoning is strong enough that I cannot poke holes in your argument," and it quite obviously does not come across that way.

If I'm connecting the dots properly, you're suggesting that "ancient wisdom and texts, personal revelation, testimonials," etc. are all fallacious support. Though the last few examples sound more like misguided reasons not to abandon one's existing beliefs, and the middle ones sound like side effects of belief, the first few examples you give seem potentially valid. I'm sure any historian would recoil at the implication that ancient texts cannot be trusted.

A belief rooted in facts and substantiated by experience is, at worst, no different than an opinion. I limit my search for the truth if I don't at least entertain the possibility that there can be truth beyond what the evidence grants. If I believe only in what I can observe and measure, then I've already found my truth. The parameters of my search for truth are so narrow that I've excluded any other possibilities.

That, to me, seems like a greater threat to our species and our development.



Posted by Flashman85 to StructuredDream at April 8, 2011 1:17 AM

BurntSynapse said...

Hm, Apparently we had a commenting glitch. I've reposted one which disappeared for some reason that remains unknown. There's no indication it was deleted...so I've no clue.

To the issues you raise:

My background: I was christened Catholic, raised Protestant Congregationalist with frequent exposure to Judaic culture, moved to Episcopalian as a young adult before my conscience got the better of me, and felt morally compelled not to participate.

This history provided me a conception of the soul as an immortal personality of value to God, and which could experience joy, suffering etc. as would a disembodied consciousness much like a ghost, and with which God is concerned about "saving".

Regarding postulates of unknown, unpopular, or threatening supernatural beliefs with skepticism we do not apply to our own is completely normal. Such cognitive bias appears uniformly AFAIK when emotional attachment is tied to position, idea, or opinion.

Offering opposition to explain their position is most unusual when a real emotional threat is felt, otherwise the appearance of dialog can be reasonably expected, don't you think? In fact, it can be used to demonstrate how reasonable we are, so there's a real motivation to present such an appearance, IMO.

The next topic you discuss gets to what I think hits a real core issue: respect. I think we need to make some distinctions about clear thinking. People presenting should largely be irrelevant to discussion, unless their background is important to their credibility in discussing of that particular topic, such as the need to have specialized knowledge of some field or other. Respect for other people should be a minimal standard which we uphold. We should distinguish between ourselves as people and the beliefs and opinions we hold – they are 2 separate things. I do not believe there are any bad people just like I don’t believe there are any bad dogs – they may be vicious killers too dangerous to be left loose, but this is the result of genetics and environment . I would be a vicious Rottweiler if my parents were Rotts, and I’d been badly abused. Good and bad only really apply to actions and consequences, not physical objects in my opinion.

Ideas however, are arrived at through processes over which we can use perhaps our greatest ability: choice. We can evaluate a proposition, and decide if it meets our quality control standards. Relative to objective truth, there are various methods proposed which we can compare in order to decide which methods as most likely to be reliable, accurate, and robust. We can look to history and our own experience and perhaps decide that correcting mistakes is important. We may recognize – unsurprisingly - that all things being equal: a better, more robust process of searching for truth will possess that ability.

Applying this to the topics mentioned in “connecting the dots”, I do not recommend discounting appeals to authority and anecdote because of misguided rationalization in support of my position, I discount them because better, more reliable methods of inquiry are available which refute the metaphasic overmind as well as traditional supernatural beings. This excludes these ideas from warranting “respect” but it does not, as you suggest, not exclude our realization nor our investigation of underlying causes for phenomena we observe. Like our sense of an internal self traditionally conceived as a magic soul, nor our sense of an internal dialog with a parental figure who is not really there. These are real phenomena we should study, but not by rejecting our most reliable means for study and the most reliable knowledge available.

The fact that we are limited and ignorant of many things does excuse us from what remains the moral responsibility of a modern mature mind: good mental hygiene which protects us from parasites of unjustified certainty and self-deception.

BurntSynapse said...

Hm, Apparently we had a commenting glitch. I've reposted one which disappeared for some reason that remains unknown. There's no indication it was deleted...so I've no clue.

To the issues you raise:

My background: I was christened Catholic, raised Protestant Congregationalist with frequent exposure to Judaic culture, moved to Episcopalian as a young adult before my conscience got the better of me, and felt morally compelled not to participate.

This history provided me a conception of the soul as an immortal personality of value to God, and which could experience joy, suffering etc. as would a disembodied consciousness much like a ghost, and with which God is concerned about "saving".

Regarding postulates of unknown, unpopular, or threatening supernatural beliefs: that we apply to them skepticism we do not apply to our own beliefs is completely normal. Such cognitive bias appears uniformly AFAIK when emotional attachment is tied to position, idea, or opinion.

That you, I, or anyone offers to discuss an opposing quasi-supernatural belief would only be unusual when a real emotional threat is felt, otherwise the appearance of dialog can be reasonably expected, don't you think? In fact, it can be used to demonstrate how reasonable we are, so there's a real motivation to present such an appearance, IMO.

Even now, I probably am happy to discuss these topics because I've studied and explored them for many decades, feel comfortable with the various arguments and their respective strengths and weaknesses, and perceive no threat - in fact: if a stronger method for discerning fact and truth came along to replace science, I'd be thrilled!

The next topic you discuss gets to what I think hits a real core issue when you discuss respect. I think we need to make some distinctions about clear thinking. People presenting an idea should largely be irrelevant to discussion of the idea's merit, unless their background is important to their credibility in discussing of that particular topic, such as the need to have specialized knowledge of some field or other. Respect for other people should be a minimal standard which we uphold at all times. We should distinguish between ourselves as participants in a discussion from the beliefs and opinions being discussed – they are 2 separate things. I do not believe there are any bad people just like I don’t believe there are any bad dogs – they may be vicious killers too dangerous to be left loose, but this is the result of genetics and environment . I would be a vicious Rottweiler if my parents were Rotts, and I’d been badly abused. Good and bad only really apply to actions and consequences, not physical objects in my opinion.

A hammer is not good or bad, but it is better or worse compared to a screwdriver for certain things. Traditional gods are the same: better than science at some things, worse at others.

Ideas are arrived at through processes over which we can exercise perhaps our greatest ability: choice. We can evaluate a proposition, and decide if it meets our quality control standards. Relative to objective truth, there are various methods proposed which we can compare in order to decide which methods as most likely to be reliable, accurate, and robust. We can look to history and our own experience and perhaps decide that correcting mistakes is important. We may recognize – unsurprisingly - that all things being equal: a better, more robust process of searching for truth will possess that ability.

BurntSynapse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BurntSynapse said...

Applying this to the topics mentioned in “connecting the dots”, I do not recommend discounting appeals to authority and anecdote because of misguided rationalization in support of my position, I recommend it whenever because better, more reliable methods of inquiry are available. In this case, they refute the metaphasic overmind as well as traditional supernatural beings, but this does not always work in favor of my opinion, nor will it in the future. It does work better than any known alternative in advancing my long-term values, however.

When beliefs are supported by less-reliable means when more reliable refutation is known, the ideas are excluded from warranting “respect”. In fact, the rejection of the most reliable evidence is properly condemned, IMO, but this rejection does not, as you suggest, exclude realization nor investigation of underlying causes for phenomena we observe. These causal conditions and dynamics can cross various phenomena (eg: law of gravity) or even be counter to observations, like the movenment of the sun.

Two examples: our perception of an internal self - traditionally conceived as a magical and immortal soul, and our sense of an internal parental figure who advises us and with whom we can converse; the objects are not really there, but our perceptions are. The perceptions are real phenomena which we should study, but not by rejecting our most reliable means for study and the most reliable knowledge available, and regard spirits, muses, and deities as existing beings.

The fact that we are limited and ignorant of many things does not excuse us from what remains the moral responsibility of a modern mature mind: good mental hygiene which protects us from parasites of unjustified certainty and self-deception, freeing us at least in a small way from the constraints of our flawed and limited perceptions. Losing childhood illusions are part of a maturing process I think is a good thing both for people and civilizations.

Flashman85 said...

Hi BurntSynapse,

Blogger must be having a field day with these comments, because everything you've posted and re-posted is here (making it tricky to know where to start with a response), but I appreciate the persistence.

I want to say up front that this line of discussion has brought up some frustrating and difficult challenges for me as both a person who is unaccustomed to this level of debate, and as a person in the midst of a slow struggle to define his own beliefs. I was actually surprised by how much some of your posts and comments have jostled me, but I feel we need to be shaken up from time to time.

Your conception of the soul is indeed somewhat different from mine. Your description makes a soul sound almost like a separate personality or entity that inhabits one's body, whereas the conception I have is that a soul is essentially the collected knowledge and experiences of a person--that which would remain if human life could continue without a body.

Going way back to what originally led me to comment here, it is because of my conception of a soul that I pointed out that it is not necessarily futile for a doctor to treat and protect the physical shell of a human being--if the soul consists of the intangible remains of a person, a healthy body is more likely to allow a person to nurture, expand, and improve their intangible aspects than a weak or dying body.

It's officially too late for me to do any more writing tonight, so I'll finish responding when I have the chance.

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Flash,

While you're thinking about fleshing this post out and completing its topics, I'll share an approach that I've recently learned about which I'm going to explore a bit which I think might be more helpful for me as a "survivor of delusion" (not merely religious) and those who I might be tempted to regard as "current victims" of deep irrational biases.

It is called "The Capability Approach" and this morning I plan to review the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry by Ingrid Robeyns (April 14th, 2011).

It is based on 2 key ideas:
1 - Freedom to achieve well-being is of primary moral importance.

2 - Freedom to achieve well-being is to be understood in terms of people's capabilities.

#2 refers to people's real opportunities to do and be what they have reason to value.

These all sound very reasonable to me, and perhaps what I ought to do with believers is advocate good cognitive science and neuroscience material accessible to the general public, rather than slash apart cherished beliefs into tatters like some over-caffeinated Vulcan ninja!

Flashman85 said...

Hi BurntSynapse,

Being surprised by an over-caffeinated Vulcan ninja seems to put people unexpectedly on the defensive, which can easily cause some snap irrational reactions, as evidenced by the comments I've seen on some of these posts. A fresh approach might yield more productive discussion than, "YAAAARGH!" :)

What's making it tough to properly respond to the previous comment block, aside from Blogger's glitchy reaction to leaving comments on this post, is that I keep looking back at the points I want to make or had tried to make, and I keep noticing how your responses often bring the conversation in directions I'm not at all headed toward. If this only ever happened throughout the comments on this post, I might be inclined to think that it's got something to do with a lack of clarity or thoroughness in my writing, but this is something I've seen recurring throughout your STbtM posts as well.

You very obviously have strong opinions about religion, politics, etc., and it seems like you jump at any opportunity to turn a statement or situation, no matter how small, into evidence that you're right about something. I must choose my words carefully, because even a single word can become a soapbox for you to stand upon.

I utilized an egg metaphor in an attempt to illustrate that your perception of a soul (and how medicine relates to it) is not necessarily the same as the perception held by people who do believe in a soul. Among other things, you smashed my egg metaphor and asserted the metaphasic overmind, and suggested--as I interpreted your words--that I would most likely think your assertion was ridiculous, and I would dismiss it. I responded that I would not think your claim was ridiculous, and I would ask to learn more, because I'm an active seeker of ultimate truth. You replied that my response was normal, though insinuating that I (a seeker of truth) would never ask those same questions about my own beliefs. I came back in surprise, pointing out the contrast between my initial interpretation of your words (that rejecting such a "ridiculous" assertion would be normal) clashed with your latest statement that asking questions would be normal. You reiterated that applying skepticism to unknown beliefs (but not our own) is normal. I must be one heck of a poor wordsmith to have ended up where we are now.

Flashman85 said...

A month of discussion and debate of topics I wasn't planning to discuss or debate has begun to take its toll on me, so rather than respond directly to any individual points, allow me to share a bit about my own approach to belief, touching upon what I can along the way.

I was raised in a Christian household, grew up mostly around Christian friends, attended a college with students of all different religious and nonreligious backgrounds, and graduated to find a world almost completely devoid of religious discussion, one way or another.

At my core, I am a believer in one God and a follower of the teachings of Christ, but there's so much interference from the signals of the modern church and the outside world that I'm having trouble tuning in to the whole truth, or as much of it as a mere mortal can perceive.

The Christian faith is my starting point, as I have been involved too long and too deeply to write it off as a "childhood illusion" due to a lack of evidence to suggest the existence of the supernatural, or due to the conduct and assertions of certain representatives of the faith.

What strengthens or weakens my belief is my understanding of how my beliefs came to be. Where did all this church ritual and doctrine come from? Who decided which books were canonical enough for the Bible? How reliable is the Bible itself? How does one distinguish an act of God from random chance? I grew up believing that what I was told (or at least some form of it) is true, so I am examining the rationale behind why people believe it, myself included.

This is my form of mental hygiene against unjustified certainty and self-deception. If my exploration reveals enough for me to declare that Christianity is a sham, then perhaps I begin exploring another belief that smacks of truth (Buddhism is most intriguing to me), or searching for proof that there's no truth in religion at all.

People too often blindly accept the faith that's been handed them, or reject it outright after a bad experience or two. I respect a person who has achieved that which I seek to attain: a fully developed and well-supported understanding of their own beliefs.

Even if I claimed to have all the answers (or, at least, enough of them), I would still investigate the validity of other religions and continue to look at the impact of science and ongoing historical discoveries on my truth.

My approach may not be the most rational or expedient way to find ultimate truth, but whether it's my eternal soul on the line or just the adherence to some fraudulent ideas that have transformed me into a better person than I likely would have been without them, it is in my best interests to follow the threads that lead to what I believe, rather than try to recreate my beliefs from scratch in a laboratory.

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Flash,

It is true that I criticize positions based on the words used to describe them, and I ask other do the same for me.

For example: I have an inhibition against using absolute language or what conflict mediators call "awfulizing". This is taking an objectionable behavior at accusing another person of "always doing x" or "never doing Y".

When reading the accusation that I used language asserting you "would never ask those same questions", I was concerned about having violated my own beliefs regarding ethical discussion. The common use of "never" and "always" is perhaps typical when giving aggressive action a defensive tone, suggesting that harsh action is justified given the strong provocation.

I went back to check my posts in the fear that I would have made such an unreasonable assertion about another person. To my relief, several lines were devoted to expressing what looks like reasonable caution and qualification of my claims which were far different and more reasonable than you portrayed.

Since you also object to criticism based on accurate quoting of your posts, while simultaneously feeling that misquoting me is justified, I'm not really able to respond other than to say that your method of discussion appears unethical.

Since this is undoubtedly not a response bringing the conversation in directions to which you were headed, I'm also violating another of your conditions...

I would like to address the points you raise regarding apparent contradictions in my positions, but to do so, I would need to base it on the words you use.

Can you help me out here?

Flashman85 said...

Hi BurntSynapse,

I think I see the trouble here: I think we both have different expectations of how we should be communicating and interpreting our discussion.

You stated that you criticize positions based on the words used to describe them, and you ask others to do the same for you. I tend to be more lenient with exact wordings because I recognize that not every person has the vocabulary, ability, or at certain times the state of mind to express their ideas as articulately as they would like. There are also times when a person's exact words are deliberately not conveying the person's exact meaning. That being the case, I interpret the gist of a conversation before processing the specifics, unless a particular word or phrase catches my attention in a big way.

Though I have been doing my best to choose my words carefully, you scrutinize my language more than I expect you to. I am at a loss as to how I can properly express myself here, because the gist of my writing is not always coming across, and the more I try to explain what the gist was, the more I steer us away from it by offering more words for you to analyze in ways I'm not intending.

When I summarized the flow of our discussion in my previous comment, I was describing my perception of the flow of our discussion. You did not assert in blunt terms that I "would never ask those same questions." Your exact words were:

"Your reaction to the metaphasic overmind is fairly normal: with skeptical, reasonable questions..."--and up though this point you were responding directly to what I had said, but then you continued on:

"...which are all but impossible to pose to ourselves regarding our own beliefs which we've accepted and to which we have emotional attachment."

I did not recall saying anything to prompt the introduction of this idea. Based on the points I was discussing and my interpretation of your responses, I could identify no reason to include this at first. However, I remember reading many posts that used as little as a single word such as "Godspeed" as a springboard for criticism, and I had gathered from all that criticism that you have very negative opinions about faith and religion, but you have been very calm and courteous in every comment I've read, so I interpreted your otherwise inexplicable addition to the paragraph as a jab at believers, with tactful wording toning down what I interpreted to be your intended meaning: "You believers would never ask those same questions, because your beliefs would never hold up."

So, when I said, "You replied that my response was normal, though insinuating that I (a seeker of truth) would never ask those same questions about my own beliefs," I meant exactly what I said. It's just that you didn't say exactly what I meant.

Flashman85 said...

I did not mean to deliberately or thoughtlessly misquote you; I expressed the meaning I interpreted from your words, which turned out not to be what you intended.

I don't object to criticism based on accurate quoting of my posts; I object to the fact that my words are not conveying the meaning I intend.

I don't know whether my method of discussion is unethical, irrational, inconsistent, unreliable, or any number of other things, but I cannot recall any time in my life when I have had this much difficulty communicating with anyone else (barring a few incidents at the McDonald's drive-thru window).

I have successfully held plenty of long, thoughtful discussions with other people; I have written plenty of essays that readers have found to be clear and effective at expressing my points; I have had plenty of back-and-forth commenting conversations online where neither party felt misinterpreted for any length of time.

I can only think that we are using two largely incompatible approaches to discussion, or that your discussion and debate skills are operating on a far higher level than anyone I've ever met, or that somehow we're just not listening to each other. I'm sorry if I've sounded accusatory or demeaning in any way, or if this line of conversation has become a nuisance to you; it's bothered me for a month that I've been spending progressively more time and effort on each reply, yet I feel we keep getting farther and farther away from an acceptable stopping point.

Not sure if any of this will help you address the points I raised regarding apparent contradictions in your positions, but it's what I have to offer.

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Flash,

Great responses! Thanks for clarifying, it enables me to explain some things that were unclear and broaden some ideas I presented which were applied perhaps more narrowly than the way I conceive them.

I agree that there are times when a person's exact words are deliberately not conveying the person's exact meaning. I don’t think it is good to assume however, since our perceptual biases are liable to be amplified with such an approach, reducing our opportunities to learn things and perhaps correct distorting biases.

It seems risky to prejudge “these words are not their meaning”, then assume I’m capable of “interpreting the gist” of another’s intent on complex issues or those in dispute.

My inclusion of caveats regarding questions “...which are all but impossible to pose to ourselves regarding our own beliefs which we've accepted and to which we have emotional attachment” was not directed at religious beliefs specifically, but rather to provide a context or yardstick in which expected reactions to the proposal of a metaphasic overmind vs. the proposal that supernatural beliefs are irrational and immoral. Here’s how the yardstick applies:

In the case of God you have some level of personal emotional investment in believing this to be true, so propositions that this is false will generate some type of skepticism at the least. If the falsity argument is perceived as strong, the reaction is likely to be proportionally stronger. If the proposition is changed to “God belief is inherently evil.” (causes unnecessary harm) we might expect a stronger negative reaction. In contrast, the Overmind illustration was not plausibly accurate in terms of representing anything we have an emotional investment in believing is true. Questioning any aspect of it does not produce discomfort. Interpreting the inclusion of a basic emotional bias as “a jab at believers” seems to confirm the predictive power of such a yardstick, but it applies not just to religion. It appears markedly in social groupings based on political party, patriotism, school spirit, etc. Reviewing wikipedia’s “List of Cognitive Biases” provides a smorgasbord of options for how emotional drives can manifest themselves.

My perception is that this most recent exchange has been very productive as well as the most difficult.

Flashman85 said...

Hi BurntSynapse,

Acknowledged and agreed, though for me the most difficult exchange was the one prior to my last comment ("Being surprised by an over-caffeinated Vulcan ninja ..."). At that point, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas on how to communicate my points.

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