2007-02-26 : Exorcism followthrough

The exorcism thread's sprawling a bit and getting really long, and I haven't been keeping close track of it, what with moving and all. So here's your chance: what points about religion would you like me to address? What questions would you like me to answer?

They can be your own points or others', I don't mind.

1. On 2007-02-26, Nate said:

what happened that you sort of became not-so-religious?  i guess first off, am i right in assuming that?  did you at one time believe in "free will"?
thanks for allowing me to ask.


2. On 2007-02-26, NinJ said:

I have a demon named Azazel in one of my cats. He eats voles on my pants and stays out all night, making us think the cat has been eaten by coyotes. What can I do to banish this demon?


3. On 2007-02-26, Vincent said:

Hey Nate, you're very welcome.

You're right that I'm not religious. Well - I sometimes go to a UU church, but I don't believe in God or souls or an afterlife or anything like that.

Naturally, "what happened" was a whole long mess of things, over years of my life. One of the ways I sum it up to people is this:

At one point, I caught someone I trusted in a lie about a religious matter. I said to myself, "that's interesting. I wonder what else they're lying about?" So I started paying attention, and I learned to my shock that when it came to religion, they were all lying pretty much all the time.

Over the next, oh, decade, I learned to trust my conscience, and it's led me away from any kind of religious belief.

"Free will," though, I don't know about, that's an interesting question. I suppose I used to believe in free will - at least I professed belief in free will, as part of my religious dogma. Ever since I was a teenager, though, the idea of free will has seemed like an ideal or a polite abstraction or something. People behave as we behave; we can't change our own behavior without effort and practice. Does the idea of free will survive observations of humans being human? I don't know.


4. On 2007-02-26, Vincent said:

J: Nothing. You're screwed.


5. On 2007-02-26, Dave Younce said:

I'm interested in the 'future post about Vincent's experiences with paganism' when the time is right.

I like reading everybody's personal insights and reflective stories more than I like reading some of the occasionally snipey back-and-forths that people spin off into. But, of course, on this subject, feelings and loyalties run deep, and it would be silly to expect none of that to bleed over into discourse.


6. On 2007-02-26, Vincent said:

It would indeed.


7. On 2007-02-26, Brand Robins said:


I for one am always perfectly equitable and calm and well reasoned. You and your dog can go die for suggesting otherwise, you nasty backbiter.



I have a bojillion questions, but none of them come out coherently. Are you going to be at Nerdly, what with the house and all? Cause if so I think I'll wait for face to face.


8. On 2007-02-26, Vincent said:

Meg's going to be at Nerdly, barring the unforeseen and disastrous. I'm going to be at Nerdly only if I have enough vacation time to do both Nerdly and GenCon. We'll see.

I'll put up with incoherent questions, if you'll put up with stab-in-the-dark answers.


9. On 2007-02-26, NinJ said:

Aw, fuck.

What if the demon was named, like, Frances? Would that help?


10. On 2007-02-27, Matt Wilson said:

Hey V:

I'm wondering if, years later, there's moments where you're like, "oh crap, that's right, I don't believe in that anymore" regarding some pleasant aspect of the whole beliefs package.

I decided I didn't believe in God in 3rd grade or so. Considering that our family didn't go to church and my parents don't have beliefs worth mentioning, I had much less to contend with, or so I would guess. I wonder what's hard for you and what isn't.

Also, do you think it's weird that Brand can drink soda with caffeine in it but not coffee? Don't you think Brand is a weirdo? Don't you just hate Brand? Why do you think you hate Brand so much? I have my own reasons, but I'd like to hear yours.

The first secion of this is genuinely earnest.


11. On 2007-02-27, James_Nostack said:

I never participate in these religion threads, because (a) I'm not religious, (b) I seldom have anything to add because these threads are like bright lights to theologically-minded bugs, and (c) I come here for the giant stompy robots.

But here are three religious questions, vaguely related to each other:

1.  From what I remember about Christianity, it's all about peace, love, being non-judgmental, and transcending material concerns (such as money, pride, fear, etc.).  So why the heck is our culture, which is so loud about being Christian, obsessed with war and wealth and loneliness?

2. Let us assume that (a) climate change is real, (b) it's as bad as the alarmists make it out to be—i.e., pretty much the end of our civilization for thousands of years, (c) it's already to late.  (For a very extreme take on this, see Lovelock's article in The Independent—

What's a religion appropriate to a culture that has suffocated itself, and every other ecosystem that's part of God's gift to us, in its own shit?


12. On 2007-02-27, Matt Wilson said:

So why the heck is our culture, which is so loud about being Christian, obsessed with war and wealth and loneliness?

I think it's an effect of proselytism. Sort of like if the gym pressured me to join and I never went, but then if people asked, I'd be like, oh yeah, I'm totally a member at the gym.

Many people are religious for dubious reasons. Christianity, because of its particular stance on proselytism (compared to, say, Judaism), is fairly widespread in the US. That means you see more dubious Christians. I'm sure there are dubious wiccans and dubious buddhists, too.

What the hell am I doing posting here right now? I have homework.


13. On 2007-02-27, Dave Younce said:

If you don't come to Nerdly, how will you & Brand & I form the (partially ex-)Mormon Triumvirate(tm)?

Also, Brand, my dog can't die, inasmuch as you already killed him for Satan.


14. On 2007-02-27, Larry Lade said:

Hey Vincent,

Was that exorcist thing a standard rite of passage for all Mormon boys, or a special privilege? How'd it come to pass that you were selected for such a duty?


15. On 2007-02-27, Matt Kimball said:

Given your response to the question of free will already, maybe you don't have anything more to say, but if you have any connections between your current atheist beliefs about free will, consciousness or the mind/body problem as compared to your Mormon beliefs about those same topics, I'd be interested in reading them.

I think I'm personally coming back around to a belief in free will, while still holding on to my skepticism.  It's a problem I like struggling with, but I don't know that I have much to add to it that hasn't already been said.

Note:  This free-will believer typed 'zombie' into the 'human' field.  Haha.  Free-will made me do it.


16. On 2007-02-27, wundergeek said:


I don't know that anybody can really say that Christianity is about [x] - that's a pretty big statement and as soon as you say Christianity = [this thing over here] then you get other Christians arguing that no, in fact it = [that thing over there]. But yes, you're correct that love and peace are a big part of Jesus' message.

The reason our culture is so loud about being Christian is simple human nature. No one wants to think they're an asshole. So everyone does their best to rationalize their assholish behavior by finding some way, however contrived, to reconcile their behavior with Christianity. Sometimes you wind up with some pretty square pegs trying to fit into a round hole - like George W who claims to be Christian and yet didn't have a problem with killing people by starting a war (and who now refuses to even talk about casualties).

But that's not unique to our culture and Christianity. Hell, you've got all the extreme Islamists who blow people up and call themselves righteous Muslims - despite that their radicalism is pretty antithetical to the Quran. I'm willing to bet it happens with every religion. It's just people being people.


17. On 2007-02-28, Curly said:


If the Transporter from Star Trek existed, would you ride it?

As I understand it, the thing unravels you into a stream of wave/particles, and transmits them to another location, and then constructs a Vincent in the 2nd location.

What happens to the consciousness of the 1st Vincent?


18. On 2007-02-28, Vincent said:

An hour ago I was painting in the new house. Five minutes ago I was flipping onion roti on a griddle. When I was doing those things, I had immediate conscious experience of them. Where is that consciousness now? It's gone forever; I remember it, but I will never have it again.

I ride the teleporter. What happens to the consciousness of the 1st Vincent? It's gone forever. I remember it, but I'll never have it again. Same as always.

What if it's a duplicator? Which one of us is the real me? The real me is gone forever. Look, look right this second: I have no consciousness of any future me. If there are two people who both remember my consciousness of typing this, they're identically not me. This me, my consciousness now, will be gone forever by the time the two of them exist. This me will be gone forever by the time you read this, in fact, no thought experiments required; some other consciousness who remembers me will exist by then.

That's my reasoned answer.

Am I confident enough in it to go through with riding the teleporter? Hmm. There are things that I know by reason are perfectly safe, which nevertheless make me uneasy. How uneasy, in this case? Well, would I ride the teleporter for $100? Probably not. Would I ride the teleporter to save the life of one of my kids? In a heartbeat.


19. On 2007-02-28, Charles S said:

What do you see as the virtues of religion?

How do you go about getting those benefits without believing things that are untrue?

Are there any benefits that you see that you don't think can be had without believing things that aren't true?

How much does it change if you define religion in a credal sense or if you define religion in a social practice sense? How much does it change if you replace religion with spiritual belief/practice?


20. On 2007-02-28, Mal said:

Have you read Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion?

Whether or not you have, what do you make of radical, 'evangelical' atheism?  That is, to what extent do you think religion and atheism have to contest the domain of ideas, and to what extent do you think religion and atheism have to find ways to cohabit?


21. On 2007-02-28, Ben Lehman said:

Why didn't we have the conversation I wanted to have last time I saw you?

No matter, we'll have it next time.


P.S.  As for the teleporter, don't ride it!  A lot of your brain processes are based in things which cannot be duplicated physically (not only because they're chaotic, but because they're uncertain in a quantum sense).  While the person on the other side may still be "you," it'll be you restarted after traumatic brain failure: not healthy.

P.P.S.  I realize that doesn't answer the philosophical question.  The fact that the philosophical question can't be answered because it isn't physical is actually kinda important to me.


22. On 2007-02-28, Tris said:

Ride the teleporter.

It's possible to teleport a quantum state, without knowing the original state.  So you can teleport without traumatic brain failure.  I'd be much more wary of a duplicator, however.

My Question:

While you still believed, how did you rationalise the problem of pain?


23. On 2007-02-28, NinJ said:

Consciousness is a process, not a thing. Your mind is like a wave: it's a state that matter is in over time. As it moves, it changes because what it moves over (including itself) changes it (and, interestingly, vice-versa). The idea that a soul is a wave is fine by me; it's splitting hairs to say "soul" or "mind" or "counsciousness". But to say that a soul is a thing that somehow exists outside of that process, frozen, I think is something that is either impossible or irrelevant. If you can stop a consciousness, restarting it later from where it left off, the consciousness is either aware of what's changed (that is, it's moving forward anyway) or it's unaware (that is, its state was preserved, including all of its vectors).

In neither of these cases do we need to posit that there's some "thing" that motivates the stuff I'm made of; the stuff is built in such a way that processes cascade through each other, which emerge as a self.


What's the problem of pain? I find it pretty useful, myself.


For being "the safest way to travel," the teleporter sure is pretty unsafe. Maybe walking has gotten a lot more dangerous in the 23rd century.


24. On 2007-02-28, Matt Kimball said:

Maybe Tris means "problem of evil" instead of "problem of pain"?  In that case, Mormonism has an answer down solid, built into the creation myth.  But I'll let Vincent field it, if he chooses to do so.

I would probably ride the transporter.  But I'd want someone else to go first.


25. On 2007-02-28, Meguey said:

Given that you're not really 'religous', and you have clear experience of how to 'do religion' badly for/with kids, what do you think we can do to help our sons understand religion(s) 1)without just handing them our(?) beliefs,
2)without being wary/dismissive of religion to the point of prejudice, and
3)in order to form their own senses of spirituality and connection with nature/spirit/fellow-feeling/whatever?


26. On 2007-02-28, Emily said:

If nobody flew in planes, we wouldn't either.
If everybody transported, we would too.

I say, only ride in the transporter if they have the special fancy filters that fix the common cold and take out cancer whenever they zap you.

I'm interested in the answers to Charles' questions.


27. On 2007-02-28, MikeRM said:

1. Why the heck is our culture, which is so loud about being Christian, obsessed with war and wealth and loneliness?

Christianity was hijacked relatively early on by the Emperor Constantine, who made it the official religion of the Roman Empire and so co-opted it into the whole war/wealth realm. The people who disagreed with this opted out and went and lived in the North African desert, where they were known as the Desert Fathers (there were Desert Mothers as well, but it was a sexist age).

Today, after approximately 1700 years of close relationship with the various power structures, the best-known, most public version of Christianity is still very much alongside the war/wealth thing. Throughout history there have continued to be people who have disagreed with this; by the nature of things, they tend to get killed, and/or be impoverished and sidelined and denied access to education and the opportunity to publish, and so their voices are not as prominent as those who participate in the power structures. People who are genuinely humble and don't value material things, for example, don't tend to own television stations.

Talk to a Mennonite some time about pacifism. Make sure you're sitting comfortably and have no other plans for several hours.

Loneliness? That's an Industrial Revolution/modernist thing. Same reason as families in India are now neglecting their old people instead of honouring and supporting them. Nothing particularly to do with Christianity except inasmuch as the deep values of Christianity have been abandoned in the industrialized West (as the deep values of Hinduism are being abandoned in industrializing India). Modernism feeds people better and extends their lifespans, but it tends to be quite bad for their mental and social health.

2. What's a religion appropriate to a culture that has suffocated itself, and every other ecosystem that's part of God's gift to us, in its own shit?

Pretty much any religion that hasn't frozen itself prior to, say, 1965. Which actually includes the radical wing of evangelical Christianity (Sojourners, for example) as well as progressive and postmodern Christianity.
Western Buddhists frequently have something to say about environmental concerns (more traditional Eastern Buddhists not so much, since if the world is an illusion it's not really a matter for concern, to oversimplify). And the various forms of neopaganism which have arisen and diversified in the late 20th century mostly have a big environmental aspect to them - the Druids most of all, and perhaps not so much the Asatru.


28. On 2007-02-28, Christopher Weeks said:

Why is there such a powerful human urge to seek religion?  When I was little I bought into the idea that people just wanted answers and were too lazy to find the real ones and too weak to admit that we just don't know.  But there's so much more, I think, to the religious experience—sense of belonging, order, hierarchy, security, etc.  I've never been religious—I was five the first time I heard of the notion of God, so I'll never have an insider's view.  A friend of mine thinks that religion is primarily part of our drive, as social animals, to line up behind the alpha male.  His stance and my childhood belief both have partial merit, but are obviously too simple.

The question of the benefits of religion and how to get them without self-delusion is an interesting one.  Three ideas on this:

My mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer about 18 months ago and was most likely going to die.  She's about as good now as anyone could be after having her insides scraped out and baked in poison for a year, so it's all good.  But one of the things we talked about was the stats that show the people of faith have better recovery rates.  She did more research than I on the issue and settled on speaking affirmations as an approach to gain one of those benefits of religiosity.  So she recited stuff like "I'm worthy of survival" and "In six years I'm going to see my grandson graduate from highschool" and whatnot.  Obviously there's no telling if it helped, but I think she found that there is evidence that it does.  Whatever the mechanics behind that, it's neat stuff.

My in-laws' house burned down.  They live in a small town.  They're deeply nestled into the social fabric of that town—they're the dentists.  They have attended the UU chruch in the nearby larger college town for almost forty years.  When the house burned, they lost everything.  Both of these groups sprung up suddenly and without asking to help take care of them in their time of crisis.  There were places to stay, hot meals, entire wardrobes and sets of pots and dishes.  It was really cool.  (Part of me thinks it's also creepy, but that's the dumb part, I think.)  I guess it seemed natural that their neighbors and patients would step up and help out.  But honestly, their church—40 miles away, is who really supplied most of the comfort and aid.  It never occurred to me before watching it.  So my wife and I were talking.  If that happened to us, we'd be screwed.  Overwhelmed.  We move every five years.  We're not particularly gregarious.  We're atheists and have no church-like safety net.  (Not really a relgious thing—you obviously have help when you need to paint, but it is for some.)

Lastly, I wonder what my kids are missing.  I wonder what I missed.  My exposure to and opinions of church-going from my own life are primarily negative.  But I bet it's not that simple.  I wonder if my kids would be better served by some kind of church-like experience.


29. On 2007-02-28, Sydney Freedberg said:

In defense of "war and wealth":

The Desert Fathers (and Mothers) were not always people you'd want to be around, what with the painful penances and the mortification of all fleshly desires to include not only sex but decent food.

The core Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition holds that this world and its pleasures are good, gifts of God, and that we should enjoy them gratefully. The material only becomes a problem for the spiritual when we forget where the material comes from. But to consider self-denial an end in itself is ultimately as sinful as to consider self-gratification an end in itself: Either way you're obsessing about the physical, either as a positive or as a negative, and forgetting the fundamental issues of hope, faith, and love.

As for Emperor Constantine, I'm well aware that his grasp on Christianity was loose and his faith at least partially a matter of tactics, and that the Church became significantly corrupted by its association with political power and wealth.

But it's all too easy for the Church to go the other way and become corrupted by purity. You can be so obsessed with not compromising your principles that you become narrow-minded and exclusive: Look at all the little sects of Puritans excommunicating each other in colonial New England. You can become so obsessed with not seeking wealth and power that you actively deny yourself the means to make a difference in this world.

Unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity started as a persecuted religion, and it retains a deep discomfort with using the tools of the State—in blunt terms, with using force. But there's a problem with that, a profound practical and moral problem: There are people in the world who use force and who will not be dissuaded, and if you reject the use of force yourself, your only alternative is to give them what they want or let them kill you—and others. As long as Christianity was not the religion of either the majority or of the political leadership, it could dodge this question by renouncing violence itself but enjoying the police and military protection of non-believers. As soon as Christianity becomes responsible for guiding an entire society, that society has to figure out a way to make Christianity compatible with the use of force or accept banditry, conquest, and ultimate extinction.

You can argue that it's more moral to be killed than to be killed. You're probably right. I admire those who are willing to die for their beliefs, when they could easily have saved themselves at the cost of their principles. But I believe it is profoundly immoral to let someone else be killed for your beliefs when you could have easily saved them: Your principles are less important than someone else's life.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis (as I'm prone to do), when someone is beating a child, and no amount of disuasion or moral example or guilt will stop them, the Christian pacifist has to pick up a baseball bat. When someone is pillaging your neighborhood, and "nonviolent noncooperation" does not slow them down, the Christian pacificist has to pick up a rifle. To refuse to help people who are suffering because of a point of principle is not moral, but profoundly selfish. There is a moral obligation to act, not merely an obligation not to act immorally.

The other day, in William Buck's translation/retelling of the Mahabharata, I read a story about an ancient Indian holy man who swore never to tell a lie—so when bandits asked him where the man they sought to murder had run to, the holy man told them. For not lying, the Mahabharata informs us, he burned in Hell.


30. On 2007-02-28, Matt Kimball said:


I think your view of mind as a wave is a good metaphor, but I also think it only explains the so-called "easy problems" of consciousness.  I don't think it says anything about the "hard problem" which Chalmers identifies.  (i.e. the man in my head watching the movie of my life—and possibly also directing if free will is more than illusory.)

You can argue that the man in my head is unverifiable, though, and you'd be right.  A hard-line physicalist might say that only that which is verifiable should be considered.  Maybe that is what you mean by the irrelevant part of 'impossible or irrelevant'?  This was my position five or ten years ago.  Now, I can only assert that I experience the man in my head and it seems worth noticing.  Why is the man there, I ask?  And I have no answers that aren't wild speculation.  I still don't believe in a God who put the man there.


31. On 2007-03-01, Councilmember Coyote said:

Sorry, been to busy to lurk often lately. Need to do fix that. Lots of cool things to talk and respond to/at.

J? What does the cat do with the Coyotes and would it be a problem if the demon got into something bigger? I get lumped as and somtimes lump myself as a Pagan. Its easy, not at all acurrate, except in the broadest of terms it makes sense. I think most Pagans are off their rockers because they do the equivalent of spending 15 minutes to get ready to turn the car on rather than stepping on the gas and turning the ignition. I think that analogy is the some problem I have with religion over beleif. It takes forever to do things you should be able to do and can do if you ask the right folks for help or how.

The whole breathing trick as part of mind reading was interesting but I know that some folks are well connected with out that. Prime example, the time Laura learned to play Euchre. Three 20 year veteran taught her how to play and when she partnered we me we demolished, and the other team never scored more than a point in 3 games. I was impressed because she was alwasy throwing or leading the card we needed her to so we could win the trick. I know I was keeping my best Euchre face on so not to get nailed for cross boarding. Halfway through the third game I realized she had no clue what was going on. She was reading me to know what card we needed and throwing it with out knowing why. Was she reading my breathing, not likley. And its awfully hard to convey "throw high off suit to short suit yourself" with body language. Thats what I know, what do I beleive happened? Got me, I try not to think of it. I just know my wife cheats


Now, my beilefs are mine and do not really affect most folks outside my immediate family and as such I do not exepect them to. Now I would be surprised and astounded to find what I beleive to be fact/reality/or right. For example, and this is a wacky one. Laura and I came to the conclusion early on that the cause of my cancer and its relapses was that I got wedged into this body as a "good enough" fit and that any time I did metauzzical spirtual stuff (energy work) I was damaging my body. Short version but good enough. Even if I stopped energy work the damage was still done, and of course I did not. I did alter how I did it though and have had less damage to the bod (only had one nosebleed in the last 5 years). Thats the not so wacky part. When I started chemo again in September it occured to me that the pattern of my body was breaking down and that it needed to be stabilized. And it so happened I knew of a body pattern very close to mine and my needs, that could mesh with my energy here, and it was not in use as it was a past pattern. (Past existence). So I locked on to it and drew it as close as I could. Got home from chemo and showed what I had done to Laura. Chemo massively messes with my abilties so Laura had to take over. So she started meshing the patterns. It took a while (weeks) but she did it. Thats beleif. Now strangely, we did not tell anyone that we were doing this

till we got an email. Rena emailed Luara, she had figured/seen what we were doing and told Laura how to do it better and all sorts of details of the pattern we were meshing. I hate my beleifs sometimes, they scare me.


32. On 2007-03-01, Councilmember Coyote said:

Oh, point of history for us Americans out there. 12 of the 14 original colonies almost stopped Rhode Island from revolting/becoming a state. They thought those Quakers were far to redical to mix with the rest of us. Keep that at the back of your mind when your think about your first amendment rights. Now Nova Scotia thought the other 13 colonies were passing up a on sweet deal and just nutz. I mean every other colony of the British Empire was paying something like 37% tax and the Americans were just 3% and the British were actually willing to give us "some" represenation in Parliment when no other colonies had any. Those thoughts should mix with the how things got to be in America discussions.


33. On 2007-03-01, NinJ said:


My grandmother was 96 when she died a couple of weeks ago. She held on exactly long enough to see my marry my wife, to see my cousin buy a house with his longtime girlfriend (we need a better word), and, a week after my new niece was named, my gramma died.

It was very clear to me that she was holding on to make sure that we were all OK. Clearly, a sense of purpose aids in survival.

Matt, I don't understand the difference in the "hard" problems. I take a fairly cybernetic view of the mind: inputs, outputs, and processing/dynamic storage in the middle. (Matt, did we go to Hampshire together?)

Sydney, many cultural anthropologists feel that the first unifying act of Judaism, historically speaking, was the Exodus; that the slaves of Egypt identified themselves as Jews, perhaps picking up the self-importance of a particular group from within the slaves. There's a particular interesting bit of liguistic midrash that I like that comes, of all things, from reading E.A. Wallace Budge's Egyptian Hieroglyphics: "Rameses" is a Greekification of Ra mes su, or Ra, reed child. Moses, "Mes su", receives his name because "I drew him out of the reeds." What this looks like to me is a slave revolt fomented by one of the royal family, who's on the outs, and takes the slaves away to be his people. There's an ambivalent relationship in Egyptian history with monotheism and this seems to have been one of those times. So, in that sense, Mes Su, if he's who I'm implying he is, used a persecuted people, gave them an identity, and started something new. This also explains Judaism's ambivalent relationship with authority, at least in a mythological way.

Also, "Maybe dying for your principles is good, but asking others do die for your principles is evil," is a good principle.


34. On 2007-03-01, NinJ said:

Oh, one last thing about the wave: if you freeze the wave, then unfreeze it, it's destroyed. In order to keep it being "that" wave, it has to retain all of the subtle movements and positions within it. In fact, if you transposed all of those subtle movements and positions to another piece of water, it would be the same wave made of different water.

We are who we are only because of who we were, coupled with what we're doing and seeing.


35. On 2007-03-01, Ben Lehman said:

Matt: That hard problem seems remarkably easy to me.  Perception is one of the easiest things I can think of to explain—we have these lovely ultra-sensitive bits which, when triggered with the right electromagnetic forces, send little chain-reaction impulses to our brains, where they then trigger various electrochemical stimula.  Our perception (experience) is those electrochemical stimula.



36. On 2007-03-01, Matt Kimball said:


The thing that makes the hard problem hard—at least as I am thinking about it—is that the subjective nature of the experience exists at all.  I could, functionally, have the same behavior, interact with my environment in exactly the same way, have the same electrochemical stimula, and lack the subjective experience of "what it is to be like" me.  My question, is why is the subjective experience correlated with those chemical reactions?

Is it still easy?  Is the problem nonsense?  (Those are honest questions.)

NinJ:  Hampshire?  I don't think so.  I've never met you in person, or anyone else who has posted so far in this thread, in fact.


37. On 2007-03-01, NinJ said:

No, Matt, you can't have that experience twice. Your internal state is always rewriting itself. If it was someone else having those same external stimula, then they'd be having a radically different internal experience because their neurological environment is totally different.

The gestalt effect of that neurological environment on my perception is "me".


38. On 2007-03-01, Ben Lehman said:

I could, functionally, have the same behavior, interact with my environment in exactly the same way, have the same electrochemical stimula, and lack the subjective experience of "what it is to be like" me.

The same electrochemical stimulus?  The exact same?

I kinda doubt that.  It's pretty darned unlikely that you'd have the same electrochemical environment in your neurons twice.  By "pretty darned unlikely" I mean it's impossible.



39. On 2007-03-01, Vincent said:

What Matt means is that he could be having, not that he could have again.

Why does a subjective experience of self come along with what our brains do? It didn't HAVE to, our brains could do their thing without our having any experience at all. So, why?

Right, Matt?


40. On 2007-03-01, Matt Kimball said:

Vincent is right about what I mean.

By the way, Vincent, is this discussion welcome here?


41. On 2007-03-01, Ben Lehman said:

Why does a subjective experience of self come along with what our brains do?

Does it?

Because we human brains are all big and responsive and stuff, does that mean that other things don't have the experience of forces?  Because we can talk to each other about our experiences, does that mean that the non-communicative, non-responsive things (like rocks) don't have them?

The cool thing about our brains is that they're linked—if we feel a force on our hands, it causes an effect on in our brain.  That doesn't mean that the hand doesn't experience the force on its own, though.



42. On 2007-03-01, MikeRM said:

Sydney, have you been reading my book?

(I know you haven't, I haven't published it yet.) Basically I talk about how it's easy to exaggerate a virtue into a vice, and one of the ways that happens is being obsessed with "not doing" instead of obsessed with doing.

I also have a disclaimer when I quote the Desert Fathers about how their excessive asceticism came more from Greek dualist thought (which denigrated the physical) than from Christianity (which is, after all, in its orthodox form anyway, about the spiritual entering into the physical to redeem it). They were pretty amazing practical psychologists, though - discovered the Shadow centuries before Jung, for example.

I'm not, myself, a full-on pacifist, either; though I respect people who have the courage of that particular conviction, for the reasons you outline I'm not quite able to share it. I'm fortunate to live in a country with a foreign policy which consists basically of "Let's be as friendly and helpful as reasonably possible to everyone in sight, so that a) nobody will want to attack us, b) if anyone does we'll have lots of help (because we'll need it), c) when our people travel all over the world, they'll be welcomed, and d) everyone's more likely to buy our produce." I did some work last year for the NZ Department of Defence, and had no moral qualms about doing so, because their main functions, in practice, are disaster relief, reconstruction, search-and-rescue and peacekeeping.

As NinJ noted in the other thread, differences of emphasis arise naturally out of different religious traditions. I'm in a radical Anabaptist tradition which is suspicious of government and authority and tends towards pacifism; Sydney is in a tradition which started as a state church. I think we actually agree about everything important, we just talk about it differently.


43. On 2007-03-01, Matt Kimball said:

Ben says:

Because we human brains are all big and responsive and stuff, does that mean that other things don't have the experience of forces? Because we can talk to each other about our experiences, does that mean that the non-communicative, non-responsive things (like rocks) don't have them?

Excellent!  If you just acknowledged that you have a subjective experience of self, then perhaps we are more in agreement than you might think.

Indeed, there is no evidence one way or another about whether a rock has a subjective experience of self.  It does lead to the next question, which I again have no answers for.  If the rock has a subjective experience of self, does that have any ethical implications?

Hint for discussion:  Most people on this thread probably don't know that I am sort-kinda vegetarian, in an inconsistent fish-eating and free-range tolerant kind of way.  This may be related to the question I just asked.


44. On 2007-03-01, Ben Lehman said:

Matt—remind me again what we're not in agreement about?  All I'm saying is that experience is not particularly a hard problem, I think.

There is no evidence one way or another that anything has a sense of self, because "self," like "God" is poorly defined for scientific purposes.  From that perspective, I don't care whether a rock has an experience of self, I just care whether or not it has an experience of force (which it does—push a rock and it moves.  Drop a rock and it falls.)

Outside of science, I'm vaguely animistic / theistic.  Can you tell?



45. On 2007-03-01, Matt Kimball said:


Maybe there is nothing we are not in agreement about.  You are saying that experience of self is irrelevant for you as a scientist.  I thought you and NinJ were saying that experience of self is irrelevant to you as a human.  My misunderstanding.

Well, you do say that "There is no evidence one way or another that anything has a sense of self," and I would like to suggest to you that you might have evidence that there exists at least one sense of self in the universe—your own.


46. On 2007-03-02, Charles S said:

The answer that experience of self (which we each know that we have) can not be addressed by science would seem to be saying that the question of the nature of experience of self is not merely a hard question, but an unanswerable one. It certainly doesn't sound like an easy question.

However, I experience myself as having a variable amount of awareness of self. There are times when I act without awareness of the action (to various degrees). There are times where I have no consciousness of self (deep sleep) some dreams, certain chemically altered states. If the degree of self reported consciousness of self can be associated with the state of the brain, then that would suggest that the consciousness of self is an emergent property of the brain.

The question then becomes why, and that one seems more easily answered. What does consciousness of self do for you? It seems to me that consciousness of self is integral to sophisticated learning. If you have no sense of self, no perception of your own thoughts, would you be able to consciously regulate your thoughts? It seems to me that you wouldn't. Or rather, that the ability to consciously regulate your thoughts manifests as an awareness of self.

I tend to assume that self awareness varies with the ability to learn, and that the self awareness in which you are able to understand that when you look in a mirror that what you see is yourself is probably connected to the self awareness in which you have an idea of yourself. Given that that sort of self awareness only exists in a few species of vertebrates (has anyone ever done those tests on any of the really smart octopods?), I tend to doubt that any living thing besides those species has a similar sense of self to what I experience myself as having, and I therefore tend to doubt that non-living things have anything like my sense of self. Perhaps rocks have some completely different sense of self, but I can't really see how (or even what that means).

If sense of self depends on thinking, and thinking is something that runs on brains, then sense of self depends on brains, and is probably only an emergent property of sufficiently complex brains. That still leaves why it is there at all, which is certainly not an answered question, and certainly the definitional problems of what does self consciousness mean make answering it more difficult, but it isn't answered for any specific clear definition of sense of self either.

So it is a hard question. And I don't think my answers are complete or particularly solid, but I don't think that the entire question of self awareness can simply be shunted off into the "We can never know" category.


47. On 2007-03-02, Charles S said:


Those benefits, and how to get them match up with my own thoughts. There is an additional benefit, perhaps related to the benefits of certainty/faith that I see.

I think that mystical/spiritual experience tends to be much more powerful within the context of a system of religious belief, and the (for lack of a better word) crazier religious beliefs seem to be more helpful with religious experiences. I don't have much religious belief (other than believing that mystical/spiritual experiences are profound and useful), so my mystical/spiritual experiences tend to be isolated and unreliable (although I have just enough religious belief to make them meaningful). I'd love to have more mystical/spiritual experiences, but I feel like getting that requires believing things I simply can't make myself believe (okay, I shy away from even trying to make myself believe them, but that is a form of 'can't').

I think this is similar to something Vincent wrote ages ago about missing the feeling of being part of a grand cosmological struggle that he had when he was a believer. On the other hand, I have the feeling that Vincent does a better job of reliably achieving immanent mystical experience than I do, so I wonder how he does so. I do okay on transcendent, or at least I used to, but immanent I have a harder time with.


48. On 2007-03-02, Matt Kimball said:

I find Charles line of thought above to be interesting.  I would like to note that if one accepts the subjective experience of self as universal among humans, and if one supposes it is physical in origin, and if one were to hypothesize that the experience of self provided an evolutionary advantage at some point, then one must accept the existence of free will.  Otherwise, how would the possession of the experience of self make any evolutionary difference?

However.  This flavor of free will might still be compatible with some kinds of determinism.  So, I think Vincent can have his cake and eat it too, with regard to comment #3, way at the top of this thread.

Hey Kids!  Here is a potentially dangerous consciousness / free-will philoso-experiment to try at home:  Snort some Ketamine.  I think you'll find your sense of free-will will be diminished, and your sense of self will be accentuated, perhaps due to the disconnect of free-will.  The fact that ingested chemicals can alter them suggests to me a physical basis for sense of self and free will.


49. On 2007-03-02, Charles said:

Well, as to Vincent's comment #3,

quote: People behave as we behave; we can't change our own behavior without effort and practice. Does the idea of free will survive observations of humans being human? I don't know.

It depends on what we mean by free will. I'm not really sure what free will really means in a Christian religious context, but the idea that we can change our behavior through effort and practice fits pretty well under my idea of free will, and also matches my idea of self consciousness. Of course, it is all complicated by the fact that the self perceiving self is still a product of both experience and the body, and so is not free to change its own behavior without effort and practice, but clearly change does happen, and people are not entirely predictable. That still doesn't answer the purely deterministic universe question, but I find the relationship between a deterministic universe and free will to be the same sort of unanswerable question that I think Ben feels the source of self consciousness is.

There is a context in which it makes sense to talk about free will as something that people have. There are other contexts in which it doesn't.

Never done ketamine, never plan to (brr! it horrifies me that it has become fashionable, I blame the LSD shortage), but I have done other things of a chemical nature that had similar effects (and even anyone who has been very drunk probably has a sense of having lost self awareness). I have a distinct memory of looking at a clock and actively thinking "There is a clock face, for this thought to happen means that something is perceiving the clock face, the thing perceiving the clock face is me, so I must exist." The moment (however long) before that is an incoherent void, but I expect I was fully conscious and somewhat capable of interacting with others during that void. I just had no self awareness. But I may be mistaken (also, there was severe time distortion involved, so I have no idea how long the disjunct was).


50. On 2007-03-03, Tris said:

Matt: Ketamine - I think my perception of free will would be diminished, not necessarily my free will.  In the spirit of dangerous experiments:  Convince yourself you can fly.  Really convince yourself.  Take ketamine if it helps.  Then jump out of a window.  Just because you believe you can fly, doesn't mean you can.

Others:  The Problem of Pain - I didn't mean the problem of evil, I was quoting the title of a C.S.Lewis book.  Basically, if I was an all loving all powerful and all knowing god (forgetting any paradoxes therein) I would not have allowed you to suffer as much as you have.

If I had to have a certain amount of free will in the world, for some divine and unexplicable reason of my own, why would I not give humans the free will to fly, but instead give them the free will to murder?  If I were god, I'd change physics so that people couldn't murder, but could fly.  That would help a lot of things, and I can do it, because I'm all powerful.


51. On 2007-03-03, Matt Kimball said:


If I jump out a window, I probably fall and injure myself.  This disproves my hypothesis that I could fly.

If I take Ketamine and experience a change in free will, what is the analogue to the fall in the metaphor?  Certainly it's a reckless thing to do, and could lead to undesirable consequences, but how does that say anything about the hypothesis that free will is diminshed?

If you are simply saying that the perception of a thing is not the same as the thing in itself, well, yes.


52. On 2007-03-03, Charles S said:


What do you mean by free will? I think we are running into the problem that the term is so poorly defined that we can't meaningfully discuss it.

What do you mean by saying that you have decreased free will when on Ketamine?

I feel confident that I had extremely limited self awareness when I had to reason from the existence of the clock face to conclude that there was a me perceiving, but I have no earthly idea what I would look at to say whether or not I had more or less free will at that moment than I do right now.


53. On 2007-03-03, Evan McBride said:

I've always found psychological/physiological/evolutionary explanations of consciousness like the one Charles put forward entirely satisfying. Another interesting perspective is the Global Marketplace theory in cognitive psychology. It posits that the function of consciousness/self-awareness is to act as the brain's news service, essentially. The 'consciousness' module organizes and prioritizes input coming in from all over the brain and broadcasts the most pressing information so that all modules can access it. It's a different set of metaphors, but essentially the same explanation. I've probably done a poor job of explaining it so quickly, but I've found it quite useful.

Science and religion have a lot of the same problems in terms of how they get misunderstood. Often the loudest and most visible proponents of a particular scientific or religious idea (what tends to be considered the 'mainstream' of science or religion) are those who are the least connected to the actual meaning and principles behind that that they are professing. In a similar way to how Christianity isn't at its core about war and greed, science at its core is absolutely not about intellectual arrogance and the belief that one has all the answers. In fact, such arrogance is antithetical to the scientific ideal and its meaningful practice as a search for answers.

Quite often, I hear people say things like "I refuse to think that my mind and identity and who I am, perhaps even my 'soul', is nothing more than a bunch of chemical reactions and electrical charges". There's a perception that material explanations somehow cheapen the spiritual. Do they? In practice, sometimes yes, when they are applied crudely. In principle, absolutely not.

The scientific picture of the brain isn't a simple clockwork going about its business. As NinJ explained so well the mind is a breathtakingly complex emergent process, which interacts with the world around is in more countless ways than we can possibly be aware of. We don't perceive objects, we perceive our own relationship with those objects - we are a web of interconnectedness with the world around us. Is all of this a less spiritually fulfilling grounding than 'God willed it to be so'? Is there less magic in the former than the latter?

And are they even slightly incompatible or contradictory, if you strip away the surface of dogma?

As a human being searching for meaning and understanding in my life's journey, as both a scientist and a man of faith, there's little more frustrating to me than the false dualisms that so often crop up in discussions of religion and the mind. Science versus Religion. The Mind/Soul (spiritual, otherworldy) versus the Body/Brain (base matter). It all comes down to different metaphors for explaining the same thing, and they're more useful (I find) in combination than in isolation.

Is Free Will versus Determinism a meaningful dualism? I must admit that it's not one to which I've dedicated quite as much thought. I agree with Charles that there's very little consensus into what precisely these terms mean, and that makes meaningful discussion of them very tricky.

Does something make me do the things I do? Well, who I am makes me do the things I do, I suppose. Is that free will or determinism? What makes me who I am? Everything that's come before me and shaped me over the years, each element filtered by exposure to each other, everything interconnected. The Universe makes me who I am, I suppose, the process that is continual interconnected Creation. Which, once again dependent on your definition of tricky terms, may or may not be the same as saying "God".

Our behaviour is determined by our identity and thought processes, which are a part of an interconnected and mutually causal universe. Character is Destiny, to quote Heraclitus. Who we are, the result of a web of creation and causality, determines our response to elements in that web.

Is that free will or determinism? Search me. Switch your metaphors and definitions around a little, and it seems to me you could get away with calling it either. To-may-to, to-mah-to.

Or, not having a solid grounding in the exact meaning of Free Will in the Christian/Mormon cosmologies, am I missing the point of what's being asked?


54. On 2007-03-03, Evan McBride said:

To add one more thought, I think the critical problem here may be how strongly one subscribes to the Self/Other dualism. If you subscribe to it, free will versus determinism may be a meaningful question. If you don't subscribe to it, as I myself don't - the alternative line of thought in my case being of the self as one node (with blurred and non-absolute boundaries) in a massive interconnected web that is intrinsically all One - then the question of free will versus determinism is just incoherent and confusing.


55. On 2007-03-03, NinJ said:

Evan, I think that self/other is an accurate description because it's no more than perception. We're talking about how one perceives the universe, and it's undeniable that we have experiences that don't include others' experiences; that we experience them as ourselves.

Whether or not that's an accurate description of the Universe, I dunno. I find the description of mind as a mirror very valuable; that you can draw on a mirror all you want, but you're drawing illusions onto the universe. At its calmest, the mind is a mirror, reflecting the world without judgement, without ego, and acting as part of the universe, not outside it.


56. On 2007-03-03, Matt Kimball said:

Charles asks what I mean by free will.

What I mean by free will is that the man in my head, the one from reply #30, the one I believe exists because I percieve it to exist within my own head, the man which also creates the phenomenon of "what-it-is-to-be-like", that man, I believe, causes some of the actions my body performs.  The alternative would be that the man simply observes, as if watching a movie.

The man's response to stimula and decided course of action could be entirely physically based, and furthermore could be entirely deterministic.  This doesn't invalidate the free will.

What I mean that free will is diminished under the influence of Ketamine is that one still has a strong perception that my subjective sense of self exits, that man in ones head exists, as strong as one would when sober, but he's watching a movie of the experience of one's senses.  (Now with Smellovision!)  The perception was he lacked the ability to change the outcome.  And that seemed noteworthy to me.  This whole experience, I believe, is what is sometimes meant by the slang term K-hole.  It is unlike sleep, because while asleep the subjective sense of self, the man in my head, goes away.


57. On 2007-03-04, Charles said:

I like that definition of free will (although it certainly isn't standard). It reduces it to the phenomenon we experience as free will, rather than focusing on the philosophical level that we abstract out of the experiential phenomenon. If the self perceiving self experiences itself as controlling its physical actions, then it has free will, but if it perceives its actions as not under its control, then it doesn't have free will.


58. On 2007-03-04, Tris said:


"When I take Ketamine, I perceive myself to have less free will than when I don't" is no evidence at all that you have free will in the first place.

It's a subtle way of begging the question, I think.

Some people might have hallucinations about being able to fly, which they take drugs to suppress.  The fact that they perceive less ability to fly when on drugs doesn't imply they had the ability before they took the drugs.

It's easier for us to determine if someone can fly than if they have free will, but changing their peception of whether they can/have or not doesn't help us in either case.


59. On 2007-03-04, Matt Kimball said:

Tris:  You are right.

Charles:  Well, I actually do mean free will as a causality, not a perception of a causality.  I may not have been rigorous about saying "perception of free will" vs "free will" in this thread, however.  I wasn't aware I was being so non-standard.  I'll have to think about that, as well as how the self/other duality Evan mentions might be affecting my thinking.


60. On 2007-03-04, NinJ said:

Here's a question:

What does acknowledgment of your free will get you?

If it gets you something good ??? let's say it gives you the courage to take moral action ??? then hooray! It's good to believe that you have free will. It doesn't matter if you do or you don't, right? You act well because of that belief, whether that belief is borne of free will or not.

So let's say that I don't believe I have free will because I don't know what it means, and the Universe is Chaotic but causal. And let's say that I have an opportunity to take right action. And I take it because I believe it's what the next inevitable step is.

Does it matter? Only if you believe that holding one position causes you to take better actions.


61. On 2007-03-04, Matt Kimball said:


I guess your question is directed to me, but you didn't say.  If so, hey, that's kinda like the question I just asked you over in that other thread.  Well, I'm not sure my belief in free will actually gets me anything.  It might make me slightly more optimistic, but mostly philosophy is just entertainment to me.

I saw "Zodiac" on Friday night, and I liked it.  I was like—hooboy, that Graysmith guy is obsessed, but good for him, I'll root for him because there is something I admire in that.  It's pretty much the same when I read Chalmers' papers.  I'm an odd Monkey like that, I guess.

People have made arguments that philosophy is worth doing because every once in a while something will breaking out into a new field which is actually useful for something.  They might be right.  I don't expect my armchair philosophy work will do that, though.


62. On 2007-03-04, NinJ said:

Vincent's blog hates em-dashes.

If philosophy is "just entertainment" thenyou're awash in the waves of cultural influences. Certainly no free will showing there.

So I don't buy it. I think you're copping out of the question.

Free will, as a concept, gets you something. For some, it means choosing between God and the Devil. For some, it means that you have the right to trample others because there are no rules.

What does it get you? Why do you want free will?


63. On 2007-03-04, NinJ said:

Really, just posted for the first one:


64. On 2007-03-04, Matt Kimball said:


I honestly am having trouble figuring out what benefit I get from philosophy.  And I'm thinking hard about it.  What you may be getting at, I suppose, is that in some ways I was raised in a tradition which I find intellectually bankrupt, and I was able to reject the tradition, but that left a hole in my psyche which needed to be filled with something.  That's certainly a possibility.

But that seems dangerously close to admitting that I am doing religion, and man, that is hard for me to admit to myself.

Free will, specifically, well, I dunno.  It's a repsonsibility, but also an opportunity.  I suppose it is an ethical motivator.


65. On 2007-03-04, Charles said:

I think I like the perception of free will = free will because it does indeed avoid the (to my mind) useless part of the question. Whether you believe you have free will or not, you experience yourself as making choices about your own actions (while not on Ketamine or in other weird circumstances) and as being responsible for your own actions. That awareness, and the choices that you make and the actions you take, are what matter.


66. On 2007-03-05, Curly said:

Charles wrote:
"Never done ketamine, never plan to (brr! it horrifies me that it has become fashionable..."


When you stack it up against other recreational drugs, K seems one of the least harmful: the trip doesn't last long, there's little hangover, it's a little speedy—reducing risk of airways shutting-down, dosages are relatively easy to control, at low dosages hallucination is minimal, the 'date rape drug' hype hasn't been substantiated, it has been uniquely effective in clinical testing as a one-shot anti-depressant...

On the other hand,

according to wikipedia some guy did manage to drown in his bathtub, on Ketamine.  heh.


67. On 2007-03-05, Charles said:

Ketamine (back before it became fashionable) was described to me as the guaranteed bad trip drug. Nothing in Matt's description leads me to believe that that is inaccurate (although perceiving yourself as a passive observer with no control over your actions may be an acquirable taste, it is very far from something that appeals to me).


68. On 2007-03-05, Matt Kimball said:

Charles and Curly,

Well, I've only tried it once in my life, and while there was nothing euphoric about the experience, I wouldn't describe it as frightening either.  It was mostly just strange, and notable for that strangeness.

On the other hand, later that same day I saw a woman who also chose to try it relive some clearly very painful experience under the same influence.  I was even a bit skeptical that it was the Ketamine which did that, because I experienced nothing like that—no visual or auditory hallucinations, no particular notable memories brought to the fore—and her dose was no higher than mine.  (Body weight could have been a factor, as well as mindset, I guess.)  I'm still not sure what was going on, but luckily she recovered fairly quickly.

Like any other psychoactive substance, I'm sure it could become a problem if used habitually for escapism.


69. On 2007-03-05, Ben Lehman said:


Psychoactives + post traumatic stress disoder = flashbacks.



70. On 2007-03-05, Curly said:

I only recall taking K once, but I've knowingly been in the company of users a handful of times.

I tend to take the least-polite-amount of any drug offered... often none.  So YMMV.

But, for me, the first effect was hearing music as pulsating like a strobe light.  I navigated point-to-point around a crowded, confusing club. (Walk to the pillar. Stop. Focus on the barstool. Go. Stop. Focus on the DJ booth. Go. Stop...)

This was more of a game, than a necessity.  I laughed at myself. I reached a dark bar room, unused that night; with photos of drag queens on the walls. I basked viserally in the sudden quiet, dark, aloneness, and calm.  I looked at the photos, and was surprised to recognize a friend—holding a huge trophy—back when he was younger and more convincing as a girl.

At that moment, I realized I was utterly sober; having
1. experienced no unpleasant 'crash' at the end (or the next day)
2. I think no more than 20 minutes had elapsed since snorting the stuff.

Both of those aspects were good news.

Some of the above could be described in 'disassociative' terms, but I doubt that terminology would have occurred to me—had I not heard other people describe it that way.

Locating my friends sitting in a booth, one had his head back—like he'd fallen asleep at the movies.  I was concerned, so I borrowed a bottle of nail polish and waved it under his nose.  The stink woke him up.  He was mad at me for interrupting his snooze.  He said that the -point- of Ketamine was to do enough to get into a K-hole.  I suspect that's not a majority viewpoint. I suspect he snorted a big pile of the stuff, compared to my tiny whiff.  Also, he was drinking heavily.

I guess my point is that there's nothing especially-scary about Ketamine.  It's discussed in scary-sounding terms. But both my friend & I could have had a similar experience via champagne + exhaustion.  The noteworthy aspects of the drug tend to be positive ones. The negative aspects are common to many drugs, not specific to K.

The disassociative/free-will thing is in the eye of the beholder.  If you don't feel safe, then that effect will be scary.  If you feel safe, then it's just a short, interesting ride.

In theory, the point of Prozac and of talk-therapy is to get you to step aside from your emotions/ego a bit, and refect on yourself from a slight distance.  Does K do the same thing?  I don't know.


71. On 2007-03-05, NinJ said:

Matt, I think that atheism is far preferable to bad religion. Atheism seems to be a popular excuse to be a jerk, but religion often encourages it. If it's safer to be without, if you've gotta be religion celibate to get your head together, that's the thing you've gotta do.

I say that with the full knowledge that there are nonreligious modes of looking at the Universe that are tremendously satisfying. Zen is satisfying. Science is satisfying. The Western philosophical tradition is satisfying. And, so long as you resist turning them into the religion that hurts you and yours, they help you confront the mystery of existence.

Curly, my experiences with champagne far outbad my experiences with other drugs, in fact. Bleugh.

Charles, "perception of free will" is as useful as any other perception that is not immediately disprovable. If it helps you address the Universe is a compassionate way, then awesome.


72. On 2007-03-05, Larry L said:

I think the whole "Atrocities committed in the name of God" versus "Atrocities committed in the name of atheism" debate is a red herring. Throughout much of history, religion used to be the primary criteria for how people defined who "We" are. In the modern era... not so much; people are more likely to affiliate along lines of nationality or political cause or whatever.

So of course people long ago used to commit their self-righteous evils in the name of religions, and people more recently did their evils in the name of non-theistic political ideologies. It really boils down to a larger issue of "Us vs. Them" tribalism.


Why do you say Zen is "nonreligious"? Why don't you say that the concept of "religion" you were brought up with might be too narrowly-defined or restrictive to cope with the full breadth of human religious experience?

(I'm sincerely interested, because I'm aware of how Christianity does quite poorly in this particular area, but to my knowledge you weren't brought up Christian.)


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