Saturday, 21 December 2013

Mathew Perry versus Peter Hitchens: Robot versus Spirit

A lot of us have no doubt watched the battle between Mathew Perry and Peter Hitchens on the BBCs Newsnight. While the battle was funny, the thing that struck me was that it was a proxy for a much bigger battle.
Why does Peter Hitchens hold his view that alcoholism and drug addiction are not illnesses? He says that this is because both can be defeated by human will, and anything you can will yourself to overcome can't be a disease.
Mathew Perry thinks that this is a disease that can't be overcome without help, and argues that the American medical establishment accepts its status as a disease.
They were supposed to be arguing about drug courts, but these did not get a mention.

For most of time it has been a natural assumption, one made by all the world's religions, that we were spirit trapped in a body. This spirit has free will. It can, within the constraints of the body it is trapped in, do as it pleases. It follows that we are liable, and will be judged for the behaviour of that spirit.

This view held sway until the time of Darwin. The Pandora's box he grudgingly opened helped to launch communism and the whole set of isms that hold that the group is more important than the individual, that the individual is disposable if the group prospers, and that the blame for much did not rest with the individual, but the group.

If we add to the mix America's contribution, behaviourist psychology, that appeared to show how the mind can be conditioned and controlled, and thus the will, we have the stage set for the modern view of humans, that we are a complicated form of robot.

When we start to look at this idea in depth, it gives us some problems with the law. Surely you cannot punish a robot for doing what it was conditioned to do?
Surely a drunk driver is no longer liable, if his drinking was caused by an addictive substance? It must be the fault of the booze industry.

A lot of the things we love and respect come tumbling down if we accept this robot theory.

The few interjections made by the third guest on the program, Baroness Couldbeanybody, confirmed that she was a paid up roboticist.

"The evidence shows" she said "that alcoholism is caused partly by genetics and by conditioning". There we have three pivotal ideas expressed that together have created the scariest problems we have faced in the past few hundred years.

The first is the idea that evidence collected from humans in sociological tests and data gathering has the same weight as say data collected in a physics experiment: The Soft/Hard science dichotomy.

The second is Darwin, and the idea that our genes are in control, not free will. Finally the psychologist B.F. Skinner shows up, with his view that we are completely conditioned.

This battle occurs everywhere. The present Pope, for instance, saintly as he appears to be, is also a socialist, some say a Marxist. It is strange that he of all people can't see that by allying with the roboticists he undermines his own religion, which sees the soul as the central idea.

Saint Francis, who's name he has taken, cared for the poor and lived a frugal life in imitation of Jesus, not Marx.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The law and a life

A piece from

Sunday, 1 December 2013

A cry in the night

Since I'm thinking about children and religion, I want to record this insight that occurred to me a long time ago.

One or another of my children was newly born, and like all new parents we had very little sleep as we tried to cope with their nappy (diaper) changes and feeds. I remember waking up to the sound of my child crying in the night for his or her mother.

It occurred to me, fast out of my head on too little sleep, that the sound I head was the authentic and pure voice of religion. That the religious impulse was just that - crying in the night for your parent.

It's said that young men dying on battlefields almost always call for their mothers at the last. As I say in my last post, the feeling is reciprocal, and mothers and fathers will turn to religion like no others when bereaved.

I've modified my attitude to religion a little since then. Despite being a scientist, there are internal phenomena that keep nudging me to view our universe as containing more than what we can observe as cause and effect; but more of that another day.

What does "paying tribute" mean?

The press use words and phrases none of the rest of us use. None of us "slam" other people, for instance. Bizarrely at the Denny's chain restaurants in the US a "slam" is a kind of breakfast; derivation uncertain.

So what is "paying tribute"?

According to the press, if we get caught up in some kind of disaster that occurs to our loved ones, i.e. they get murdered, bombed, accidentally mown down or whatever, a nice journalist will require that we "pay tribute" to our dead associates.

Why? Why does no one tell them to simply fuck off?

Why do we think we should make our emotions accessible to the media? Again, as in my last post, I think we are seeing some kind of incipient religious belief growing. When dealing with a sudden death, you "pay tribute" through some local media, the papers, twitter, Facebook, whatever,  You then buy some flowers from Tesco's, and clutching some symbolic possession of the deceased, the more poignant the better, you proceed to the place of death and decorate it.

The funeral, on the other hand, is normally something  low key from the Co-op.

How did these beliefs evolve? At any time before the 70s, the funeral would be the focus for everything. Now that we're not Christian, or the churches are more concerned with global warming or third world poverty than the cure of their parishioners, people are forced to construct ritual for themselves.

There is nothing more poignant than the death of a child. I thank my personal deity that my children have reached their late teens alive, and long may they continue. There are many places in the world where infant mortality is high, and interestingly, religious belief is high too.

I know, believe me, that correlation is not proof of causation, but I do think these are causally linked.

Charles Darwin avoided publishing his "On the origin of species" for 10 years because, so it is said, he did not want to undermine his wife's faith after the death of their young daughter. This event wrecked his faith, but strengthened his wife's.

In the Victorian period infant mortality was high, and religion too. If there is one thing, it seems, that will make you religious it's the death of your child.

Yet, since  infant mortality is low in the UK, our mechanisms for coping have atrophied.

The derivation of the phrase "paying tribute" is, of course, very different from its modern usage. Minor kingdoms paid tribute to Rome, during the empire. The Jews paid tribute to Babylon. We all pay tribute to our masters in the EU through VAT. Paying tribute is a sign of enslavement.
Perhaps we should stop.

Sacred Soil? Sentimental bollocks

Yesterday the papers carried stories of "Sacred Soil" being carried from Belgium to the UK.
This has come from the World War 1 battlefields

There was lots of saluting and pageantry, but I cannot see the point, nor can I find any point of reference of this stuff to any system of belief.

Is here a religion that sees soil as sacred? Animism, perhaps, but none of the major religions. Is there a service in the C of E reference books for making soil sacred?

Everywhere I go these days I the UK I see little shrines erected, flowers tied to trees, football shirts, teddy bears etc, commemorating where some unfortunate teenager took a bend too quickly.

Is there a religion in existence that thinks that the site of death has some significance? I can't think of one.

I'd love to know who theses people are erecting the shrines. Has some sociologist done any research?

I wonder if they are a misunderstanding of the roadside shrines seen in Greece, which mark a lucky escape, rather than a death, and serve to give thanks to the saint deemed to have performed the miracle.

Do the people who set up the shrines think the soul of the deceased is hanging around the place of their demise? Have they thought it through at all, I wonder.

Throughout history Leaders, Kings, Queens and dictators have organized ceremonies with the intent of binding the people to the state, or of performing some religious purpose beneficial to the state or ruler.

These ceremonies were generally drawn from the religion underpinning the culture, and they usually made sense. So when the emperor Augustus was deified, the people really believed he had become a god, and there were previous examples in their religion.

Now the UK has no real religion people are just making things up as they go along.
The state shouldn't be paying for "Sacred Soil" it's just some weird PR exercise so David Cameron can demonstrate his "emotional intelligence".

What fascinates me is that these made up ceremonies are increasingly pagan, as if some ancestral memory is stirring. Given enough time will we revert to the religion of our forebears, to Druidism and Norse gods?