Archive for October, 2012

Aretae: A primer on Atheism

October 16, 2012

Aretae: A primer on Atheism  Go read it.  Maybe a little too “Aretae” for some, but still good.

I especially like “D”:

More aggressive folks in the atheist tradition argue:  The god of the Judeo-Christians is morally repugnant.  If such a being existed, it counts as monstrous.  Any sane modern would call its behavior evil.

Correct!  I must then be sane.



“Heaven is Real!”

October 13, 2012

Newsweek and The Daily Beast embarrassed themselves this week with a florid, if not downright lurid, cover story:

It’s by a neurosurgeon claiming that his own visionary experience, had while in a coma, is “proof” that heaven exists. If you haven’t read it, please do and then come back.

I’ve read it twice, each time with growing awe. It’s not the wispy, sort of new-agey angels that inspire incredulity. It’s …

* Is it really possible that a self-claimed brain scientist is unaware that when you’re in a coma your cortical activity does not completely shut down, as he repeatedly asserts? There’s a lot we still don’t understand about coma states, but we do know there is both measurable brain activity and other ill-understood effects (e.g. people coming out of comas have noted hearing the actual conversations going on around them). You know what? If your cortical activity really does shut down for seven days, you don’t come back and write a book about it; you die.

* Was he given ketamine? We aren’t told. But I understand ketamine is commonly given to people in comas — and what do you know, it can produce hallucinations just like the visions he describes.

* He seems to believe he was “in heaven” the entire seven days of the coma based on the “timeless” quality of the vision. But how could he know how long the actual visionary experience took? People taking ketamine, ayahuasca, and similar hallucinogens often report “timelessness,” even though the experience takes only minutes. And haven’t we all woken up from dreams that subjectively seemed to last forever, when objectively they probably lasted only 90 seconds?

* Does he really believe that constantly repeating I’m a scientist and I understand the brain! is a substitute for showing us data — for instance, a list of medications he was given, or EEG traces made during the coma? Again and again, he offers only that hoary old fallacy, argument from authority.

* Is it really possible that Newsweek staffers believe it? Or are they in their offices snickering about how the rubes will buy anything?

* Finally, is it really possible that millions of believers out there are not only falling for this, but thinking it’s an effective argument for their cause?

I’ll give the author this: He probably did have the visions he describes. Plenty of other visionaries, consumers of hallucinogens, brain-disease sufferers, people with high fevers, and vivid dreamers have reported similar things. (That is, Westerners have reported them. Visions of people from other cultures are often very different.)

But he offers not one shred of anything any sane person would consider “proof.” In fact, he offers dozens of flaming-red flags that anybody with a shred of sense should see waving right in front of their eyes. From almost its first paragraph, this article raises question after question — or ought to raise them. If you can read that article without seriously questioning its claims and its credibility, I’ve got a nice bridge in Brooklyn I’d be happy to sell you.

Ambushed from two sides

October 7, 2012

I sometimes wonder if it is harder to escape the indoctrination if you have been hooked by both statism and religionism.

I notice how many people are infected by both- usually intentionally- by their parents, “teachers”, and others they look up to.  I also notice that it seems harder for those who are infected by both to finally break free.

I know it is harder for a rational parent to fight off the attacks on a child’s mind when they come from both sides.  You can fight the brushfires of statism or those of religionism, but when forced to fight both you appear to be just a crank who opposes everything.

You can point out the origins and history of the national socialist “pledge of allegiance”- you can try to counter the pro-military propaganda, and the “trust the police-report your parents” indoctrination of DARE- but to also then have to fight off the mind-killing “god loves you and wants you to .…” sewage that is spewed by many of the same pro-state bigots… it is a complication that I don’t appreciate being forced to deal with.

I think the pro-state and religionoid delusions are mutually-reinforcing.  Together they make it difficult to break free of either one.