Re: Response to Garamond Lethe

On Tue, 22 Feb 2011 09:55:19 -0800 (PST), Kermit
<unrestrained_hand@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

On Feb 21, 11:00 am, gatling <gatl...@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
This is in response to a post that Garamond Lethe made to the thread
"If evolution is completely true how come humans are smart enough to".
It didn't show up on my ISP and I wouldn't have known about it if
Friar Broccoli hadn't mentioned it. So I went to Google Groups and I'm
doing a cut-and-paste of Garamond's excellent analysis. I'll have to
put in some of formatting symbols by hand, so if this post looks weird
it's because I muffed that particular task.

On Sun, 20 Feb 2011 20:47:06 -0800, gatling wrote:
On Sun, 20 Feb 2011 18:32:06 -0800 (PST), Friar Broccoli
<elia...@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
On your general position you apparently believe the reality we perceive
is not the real reality.  I have little doubt that that is (at least
somewhat) true.  However, to go from there to saying what the "real
reality" looks like strikes me as ridiculous on account of you can''t
got no reliable evidence.
There are several sources of possibly reliable evidence.
Thank you for attempting a positive contribution.  We don't see this much
from the non-science side of things.
They include
direct empirical experience such as all normally functioning people
This is reliable only in a very narrow range, is it not?  "Hot glass
looks like cool glass" is empiric and reliable, "The sun moves around the
earth" is empiric and unreliable.  
It's not accurate from a modern scientific point of view, but it's completely reliable in ordinary life. >It may complicate calculations of planitary orbits, but that wasn't an issue until fairly recently.
revelations and intuitions of various types,
I have lots of revelations and intuitions about science.  I can validate
these based on the empirical information I have available to me.  I'm
mostly wrong, but since I generate (and validate) lots of ideas quickly,
I end up with enough good intuitions for a career in research.
I also have lots of revelations about religion.  I can only validate a
trivial subset of these ("God will give me a pony if I pray twelve times
a day instead of ten.").
Do you have any reason to think that my religious intuitions are any
better than my scientific intuitions?

They're probably not as good because your scientific intuition has
been trained within context of a system of effective empirical
screening techniques. You've developed skills that allow you to make
those vital tests. No comparable *objective* tests are currently
available to screen religious intuitions.

I would suggest that they are inherently impossible.

It may be that direct tests are impossible, but science makes use of
many indirect indicators.

logical reasoning,
Notoriously unreliable.
Nixon is a Quaker.  Quakers are pacifists.  Thus, Nixon is a pacifist.
Logic is just symbol-shuffling, and symbols are abstractions.  When what
you've abstracted away turns out to be important, your logical reasoning
will be correct and useless.

I agree completely. That's why it's impossible to reason correctly
about the ultimate characteristics of God. None of our categories can
encompass his true subtle nature.

Does he have a subtle nature, or do some of us simply have a sensation
of ambiguity and importance when thinking about these matters?

To be more specific, do emotions denote in any way importance or
complexity or subtlety? Surely you can think of examples where people
(especially adolescents) are overwhelmed emotionally over trivial

Attempts to *think* about these matters conceptually will necessarily
involve definitions and categories. God is beyond definitions and
categories. I'm not saying thought and emotion are useless, but self
realization is all about not getting caught up in the
cognitive-emotional complexes that arise when one is attempting to
enter God's presence. They each clamor for attention. Each believes it
is the real you and that it's coming up with all sorts of extremely
valuable insights. Any primary insights are then lost in a welter of

I think this process probably is correlated with brain processes that,
if they could be mapped in high enough resolution, would serve as
indirect indicators, but currently we lack equipment with adequate
resolution of brain states.

God is neither male nor female,
large nor small, but I refer to him as "him." It's inevitable that
such categorizations will be made when people try to talk about the

Or in the family I grew up in, it seemed inevitable that
categorizations such as angry white male patriarch with a robe,
physically imposing were made. Perhaps more subtle people simply make
more subtle projections, or are more comfortable with ambiguity.

People use stories to orient ourselves in the world and to define our
patterns of life. It's very difficult to orient oneself without the
help of narrative themes. The themes may differ, but we all project.

We get intuitions of a supernal and awesome presence, and
our brains immediately try to shape the initial ah-ha experience into
some familiar conceptual form that can be conveniently manipulated.

Yes. But most scientists can tell you of ah-ha experiences that turned
out not to represent a correct insight. Brilliant associations of
physical processes may still be wrong - but at least they are
testable. How likely are intuitions of the ineffable to be correct?

Depends on whether you're referring to the original insight or the
cascades of fantasies that the brain creates in response to such
insights. The mentally processed trains of thought will all be
ultimately incorrect, but many of them may constitute partial
insights. It's also possible that many of them may degrade into forms
that are worse than useless.

Again, what metric are you using?

I don't know. Personally I'm not referring to space, time or energy
(in the conventional physical sense). Maybe 'happiness' or 'inner
peace' or even 'relaxation and contentment' could serve as measurable
dimensions associated with spiritual practices and spiritual
realization. It would be fairly easy to come up with appropriate units
of measurement. I think neurologists and other brain folk are already
exploring this kind of thing. It's at a very early stage, and such
measures are only very imperfect indicators, but we're on a path that
may be leading to a true science of mind and of spirit.

Be prepared for the possibility that a science of the mind will give
no indication of the spirit. (And I will be prepared for the

"Spirit" is just a word, but it would be good if its referent could be
analyzed in ways that lead to in increased availability of spiritual

 I'm not sure what philosophers try to measure. You should ask one. "I
think, therefore I am" doesn't seem to work very well. I think some of
them just mess around with the predicate calculus these days.

I suspect that by the time a philosopher has something she can
measure, it turns out that she's established a new science. Or
rediscovered an old one.

Maybe we should keep an eye out for that.

and science
Now there's a plausible statement.  Much of science comes with error
bars, and we can observe those error bars getting smaller over time.  We
can also observe several formal and informal checks that help to keep the
reliability high.

The problem with this is that, in some ways, it's reliable only in an
even more  narrow range than is the naive empiricism that we use every
day. It can presently deal with the subjective experiences that make
life meaningful.

Naive empiricism is often wrong. Ask any athlete about his lucky

But, statistically it must enhance survival. Everything from bacteria
to humans use it.

in various combinations. You may not agree that
all these can be sources of reliable evidence
But that gets back to the question of metrics, does it not?  
"Reliability" implies that we can test an idea to see how accurate it
is.  Methods of thought that generate ideas that can't be tested may
generate correct or incorrect ideas, but by definition we can't assess
their reliability.

By *my* definition, true deep religious experience is powerful but
ineffable. It doesn't consist of ideas to be manipulated. It's the
thing itself. That doesn't mean there's no possibility of measuring
neural correlates to transcendent experience and thus gaining evidence
of what's going on physically.

And it may have measurable benefits of various sorts.

Some of which have already been demonstrated.

"real reality," but they all have been so regarded by large numbers of people.
Large numbers of people believe many silly (and contradictory) things.  I
don't see a clear path from popularity to reliability (except in the
gross evolutionary sense).

Yes. People are subject to notions.

So how do you know that no reliable evidence can be obtained about "real
First, I don't do certainty.  I consider all knowledge as at least
potentially open to further revision as new data comes in.  
Second, extraordinary claims really do require extraordinary evidence.
Third, and finally, you don't have any extraordinary evidence.
Following that chain, I conclude (subject to revision as new evidence
arrives) that you don't know anything more about "real reality" than I do.

I think you'd have to uncover the evidence for yourself. Means exist
to do so, but they're not rigorously scientific and involve years of
training and self-discipline. The results are also subject to the
culturally mediated alteration and molding that I mentioned above. But
I could mention some basic tests and methods that you could apply to
your own psyche if you're interested. They're difficult to describe
verbally, but are akin to science in some ways.

Isn't this more or less a statement of personal faith based on
the fact that you've never personally obtained such evidence?
Oh, at bottom there are a few things we have to take on faith:  I exist,
my perceptions of reality correspond imperfectly to something real, etc.

But you could test what exactly it is that exists. Your being
encompasses a cognitive-emotional system that can be analyzed. Faith
is required to attain higher spiritual states, but it's more like the
confidence of an experienced swimmer who leaps into deep water. You
can treat your own psyche as a universe to be explored. The problem is
that the "you" who begins the exploration is largely itself a socially
constructed artifact. Your ideas and emotions all insist that they're
the real deal, the true thing. They all want to grab the attention of
the real you that resides at the center of things. That's why Asian
religions sometimes say that, before the goal is reached the traveler
must become the path of liberation that is being traveled, and that
all ideas and concepts must dissolve away before the final attainment.
The little 'selves' that we identify with must dissolve into the
transcendent reality that is true existence.

Self deception is a real danger, but I don't think I have to tell you
that. One advantage of science is that it's self-correcting. I note
that Zen arts tend to have a concrete expression: kenjitsu, flower
arranging, calligraphy. Even if aesthetically only, the results can be

Self deception could more easily be avoided if we had some accurate
means of feedback that let us know we've wandered off the narrow path.
I suppose Zen has a very rough form of feedback, as when the acolyte
starts jabbering "I've got it! I've got it!" and the Zen master whacks
him with a stick.

Concrete expressions are useful because they require us to maintain
attention to particular tasks. Those tasks require us to immediately
apply concepts rather than idly think about them. When learning to
play a musical instrument, for example, you won't do very well if your
cognitive mind is constantly, in it's cumbersome way, trying to tell
your body what to do.

But not all faiths have equal utility, and as a scientist I'm prefer
useful-and-wrong to correct-and-useless.  If you can show me how your
faith allows me to, for example, more quickly detect memory errors on 10M-
core supercomputers, you've got yourself a new convert.

No kidding? I don't know if that's part of my job description as a
prophet. But I suppose I should give it a try. Could you describe the

If you tell a Zen master that you can help him with his carpentry, be
prepared to swing a hammer. Heck, for that matter, a Southern Baptist

Hopefully he's not expecting too much.



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