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General Misc. / Re: Quotes
« on: June 16, 2019, 01:05:29 pm »
'Where the roots of Western culture ... considered the aim of life the perfection of man, modern man is concerned with the perfection of things, and the knowledge of how to make them.'
  – Erich Fromm

Philosophy & Science / Re: The mindfulness conspiracy
« on: June 15, 2019, 06:04:08 am »
Of course though, the entire idea of "mindfulness" kind of would seem to be predicated on our "default" theory of mind as being true.  That is, partly, the notion that consciousness is directive, that thinking is, perhaps, immediate to action.  But Neuroscience might tell us the opposite, that consciousness and thinking are mediate and delayed, post-hoc and perhaps something of literal afterthoughts.

Appears it already is - I think someone shared an article on this here, can't remember - but apparently, the brain processes to perform an action begin before we consciously decide to perform said action. I find that amazing.

Hmm if you're talking about Libet type experiments even Dennet has noted the flaws.

Admittedly I think a good bit of psychology has done little but show outcomes within a particular set and setting, which was then extrapolated as though the mind can be studied in the way of physics...and it's arguable there's a set & setting issue for the latter as well...

Philosophy & Science / Re: The mindfulness conspiracy
« on: June 14, 2019, 01:38:17 pm »
Yeah, I agree with you to a large extent though the article is interesting and makes some valid points.

Though it isn't surprising to see this in the Guardian, anything that might have the scent of religion or spirituality seems to be a target for criticism in some circles.

Philosophy & Science / The mindfulness conspiracy
« on: June 14, 2019, 12:43:33 pm »
The mindfulness conspiracy

Ronald Purser

Mindfulness advocates, perhaps unwittingly, are providing support for the status quo. Rather than discussing how attention is monetised and manipulated by corporations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple, they locate the crisis in our minds. It is not the nature of the capitalist system that is inherently problematic; rather, it is the failure of individuals to be mindful and resilient in a precarious and uncertain economy. Then they sell us solutions that make us contented, mindful capitalists.

By practising mindfulness, individual freedom is supposedly found within “pure awareness”, undistracted by external corrupting influences. All we need to do is close our eyes and watch our breath. And that’s the crux of the supposed revolution: the world is slowly changed, one mindful individual at a time. This political philosophy is oddly reminiscent of George W Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”. With the retreat to the private sphere, mindfulness becomes a religion of the self. The idea of a public sphere is being eroded, and any trickledown effect of compassion is by chance. As a result, notes the political theorist Wendy Brown, “the body politic ceases to be a body, but is, rather, a group of individual entrepreneurs and consumers”.

Mindfulness, like positive psychology and the broader happiness industry, has depoliticised stress. If we are unhappy about being unemployed, losing our health insurance, and seeing our children incur massive debt through college loans, it is our responsibility to learn to be more mindful. Kabat-Zinn assures us that “happiness is an inside job” that simply requires us to attend to the present moment mindfully and purposely without judgment. Another vocal promoter of meditative practice, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson, contends that “wellbeing is a skill” that can be trained, like working out one’s biceps at the gym. The so-called mindfulness revolution meekly accepts the dictates of the marketplace. Guided by a therapeutic ethos aimed at enhancing the mental and emotional resilience of individuals, it endorses neoliberal assumptions that everyone is free to choose their responses, manage negative emotions, and “flourish” through various modes of self-care. Framing what they offer in this way, most teachers of mindfulness rule out a curriculum that critically engages with causes of suffering in the structures of power and economic systems of capitalist society.

Philosophy & Science / Neil deGrasse Tyson: Pedantry in Space
« on: June 13, 2019, 01:52:14 pm »
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Pedantry in Space

Neil deGrasse Tyson: pedantry in space
by Sam Kriss


Something terrible happened to you in outer space. All you can remember are the last few moments, the sun fading to a speck as you and your crew broke free from the solar system, the ship’s systems suddenly shutting down, the panic and blackness inside, shouting and sobbing, outside the phosphorescent fringes of the wormhole as it opened up in front of you – and then you woke up, sweat-slick in your own bed at sunrise, with the birds singing outside, in another universe. You are trapped in the world of the popular TV astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and you know this, because here the sunrise isn’t a sunrise at all. In fact, the earth is a sphere orbiting the sun, so the sun does not in any sense actually ‘rise’ – it’s just that you happen to be positioned right on the moving line, known as the ‘terminator’, that separates the illuminated portion of the planet from its dark side. And the birds singing aren’t really singing – actually, they’re just emitting a series of noises without any of the tonal qualities that distinguish singing from other vocal emissions. And the bed isn’t yours, because scientists have never been able to find any way of isolating ‘ownership’ in the physical composition of any object. You jump out of bed and start banging frantically at the walls. Is there no way out? Where are your crew? You rush to the window, and almost collapse in horror. It’s all there, spread out in front of you, exactly like home: everything is exactly the same, but in this sick parody of a universe it’s all been twisted into something hollow, meaningless, and mercilessly dull.

Pink strands of cloud fizzle up from the horizon, and you know that actually the horizon is just the curvature of the earth, and that the clouds, which were once believed to be inhabited by angels, house nothing of the sort. A few people are already outside in the streets below you, jogging, going to work, but they’re not really people. Actually, they’re just apes of the family Hominidae, most closely related to the genus Pan, going about their ape-business, which remains primarily motivated by the ape-needs of food, shelter, and sex. There is nothing that isn’t instantly boring. It’s too much. You rush into the kitchen, rattling the drawer in sheer panic (actually just dyspnea, tachycardia and dilation of the pupils caused by a surge of epinephrine in your body), pull out the knife (actually just a piece of metal attached to a piece of wood), and open your wrists. The blood (which was once thought to be one of the four humours, governing personality traits, but which is actually primarily used to transmit oxygen) glugs out, darker in colour and slower than you’d expected. It’ll be over now, you think. But actually, you’re not dying: you’re just a collection of atoms, and every single one of those atoms will remain. Not only are you in this universe, this universe is in you.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is, supposedly, an educator and a populariser of science; it’s his job to excite people about the mysteries of the universe, communicate information, and correct popular misconceptions. This is a noble, arduous, and thankless job, which might be why he doesn’t do it. What he actually does is make the universe boring, tell people things that they already know, and dispel misconceptions that nobody actually holds. In his TV appearances, puppeted by an invisible army of scriptwriters, this tendency is barely held in check, but in his lectures or on the internet it’s torrential; a seeping flood of grey goo, paring down the world to its driest, dullest, most colourless essentials. He likes to watch scifi films, and point out all the inaccuracies. Actually, lasers wouldn’t make any sound in space; actually a light year is a unit of space rather than time; actually, none of this is real, it’s just a collection of still images projected at speed to present the illusion of movement, and all the characters are just actors who have never really been into outer space. When the rapper B.o.B. started loudly declaring that there’s a vast conspiracy to hide that fact that the world is really flat, Neil deGrasse Tyson immediately jumped in to refute him, even featuring on a eye-stabbingly awful rap song insisting that ‘B.o.B. gotta know that the planet is a sphere, G’ – a passionate, useless, and embarrassing defence of the blindingly obvious. In a world that’s simply given, brute fact, any attempt to imagine it into an entirely different shape must be stamped out. Why? The subject-matter is cosmic and transcendental, the object-cause is petty and stupid. Neil deGrasse Tyson strides onto stage to say that actually the Earth orbits the sun, that actually living beings gain their traits through evolutionary processes, that actually your hand has five fingers, that actually cows go moo, that actually poo comes out your bum – and you are then supposed to think yes, I knew that, and imagine someone else, someone who didn’t know it already, some idiot, and think: I’m better than that person, I’m so much smarter than everyone else.

A decent name for this tendency, for stars and spaceships recast as the instruments of a joyless and pedantic class spite, would be I Fucking Love Science. ‘Science’ here has very little to do with the scientific method itself; it means ontological physicalism, not believing in our Lord Jesus Christ, hating the spectrally stupid, and, more than anything, pretty pictures of nebulae and tree frogs. ‘Science’ comes to metonymically refer to the natural world, the object of science; it’s like describing a crime as ‘the police,’ or the ocean as ‘drinking.’ What ‘I Fucking Love Science’ actually means is ‘I Fucking Love Existing Conditions.’ But because the word ‘science’ still pings about between the limits of a discourse that depends on the exclusion of alternate modes of knowledge, the natural world of I Fucking Love Science is presented as being essentially a series of factual statements. There are no things, there are only truths. The fact that the earth is a sphere is vast and ponderous: you stand on its grinding surface, as that fact carries you on its heavy plod around our nearest star. The fact that the forms of organic life emerge through Darwinian evolution is fractal and distributed, so that little fragments of that fact will bark at you in the street or dart chirping overhead. The fact that there is no God, being a negative statement, is invisible, but you know for certain that it’s out there.

Which is not to say that there’s any requirement that these facts be true. None of this is real. Those multicoloured nebulae are not real objects, they exist only in fantastic pictures overlaid with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s face and some vague sentiments about how wonderful the universe is when it’s very far away from human life.  The images are digitally stitched together, the colours are fake, the shapes are not anything that could actually be seen out the window of your spaceship, a real-life nebula is about as exciting as a damp fog. If you’re going to love the natural world, really Fucking Love it, it’s best that you know as little about it as possible, or it might start to seem less lovable. Like when Neil DeGrasse Tyson quipped that ‘if ever there were a species for which sex hurt, it surely went extinct long ago.’ It’s a perfect Tyson fact, true because it’s basically tautologous, its scientific quality having everything to do with the idea that actual phenomena are just instantiations of abstract laws, and nothing to do with any scientific observation, such as listening to the yelps of cats fucking at night, or to women. Or when his TV show Cosmos described the sixteeth-century astrologer Giordano Bruno as a martyr for science, executed by the Catholic church for proposing a heliocentric solar system. See how the idiots persecute us, the rational, with their superstition and their hostility to objective thought. The reality – that Bruno believed in magic, worshipped the ancient Egyptian god Thoth, and was executed not for heliocentrism but for denying the divinity of Christ – is ignored, because that isn’t Fucking Science Love. Or when he decided that ‘Italy valued cathedrals while Spain valued explorers. So worldwide, five times as many people speak Spanish than Italian.’ A spurious reconstruction of the past from present conditions, or the I Fucking Love Scientific theory of history: successful tribes were populated by little atavistic Carl Sagans; if Italians didn’t slaughter millions in the New World it isn’t because the peninsula was at the time fractured into multiple city-states (some of them occupied by, uh, Spain) which supplied significant amounts of capital rather than colonists, it’s because they weren’t interested in spaceships.

But all this is pedantry, the perverse insistence on how the world is, the total apathy to how it could be different. Pedantry could be broadly defined as a hostility to metaphor, the demand that every object stand for itself and nothing else, that words function in the same way as numbers. Which is why it’s pointless to criticise Neil deGrasse Tyson or the I Fucking Love Scientists for being the pompous, self-important, and utterly cretinous pedants that they are: it’s just falling back into their own dismal, boring logic, insisting that a thing is what it is rather than something else. It won’t help you, lying dazed on the lino, the blood now spluttering in half-congealed dribs from your arms, running diagonally to the corner of the room, where the cat is skittishly starting to lap it up with tiny flicks of its tongue. You lie there, and you try to remember if you ever did really go into outer space. It was so black out there, you remember. And all the stars were so far apart.

General Misc. / Re: Quotes
« on: June 11, 2019, 04:19:52 pm »
Walking along a mountain path in Japan, we come upon a rudimentary hermitage with a large temple bell suspended from a simple   wooden pagoda.   Unlike Western carillon bells, the Japanese bell has no clapper and is struck on the outside much as one might strike a gong....Admiring the excellence  and  obvious  age of  the engravings on the  casting, we hear the footsteps of the temple priest and turn to ask,  “How old is this extraordinary bell?”

Touching  his  palm  to  the  massive  casting, he  responds,  “This  is about five hundred years old, but” (removing his hand to point into  the  black  void  within  the  bell)  “the emptiness within—that’s eternal”..
 --Thomas P. Kasulis

Einstein's Quest to 'Know God's Thoughts' Could Take Millenia

Don Lincoln

However, physicists suspect this final unification would also take place at the Planck energy, again because this is the energy and size at which quantum effects can no longer be ignored in relativity theory. And, as we've seen, this is a much higher energy than we can hope to achieve inside a particle accelerator any time soon. To give a sense of the chasm between current theories and a theory of everything, if we represented the energies of particles we can detect as the width of a cell membrane, the Planck energy is the size of Earth. While it is conceivable that someone with a thorough understanding of cell membranes might predict other structures within a cell — things like DNA and mitochondria — it is inconceivable that they could accurately predict the Earth. How likely is it that they could predict volcanoes, oceans or Earth's magnetic field?

The simple fact is that with such a large gap between currently achievable energy in particle accelerators and the Planck energy, correctly devising a theory of everything seems improbable.

That doesn't mean physicists should all retire and take up landscape painting — there is still meaningful work to be done. We still need to understand unexplained phenomena such as dark matter and dark energy, which make up 95% of the known universe, and use that understanding to create a newer, more comprehensive theory of physics. This newer theory will not be a TOE, but will be incrementally better than the current theoretical framework. We will have to repeat that process over and over again.

Disappointed? So am I. After all, I've devoted my life to trying to uncover some of the secrets of the cosmos, but perhaps some perspective is in order. The first unification of forces was accomplished in the 1670s with Newton's theory of universal gravity. The second was in the 1870s with Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism. The electroweak unification was relatively recent, only half a century ago.

Given that 350 years has elapsed since our first big successful step in this journey, perhaps it's less surprising that the path ahead of us is longer still. The notion that a genius will have an insight that results in a fully developed theory of everything in the next few years is a myth. We're in for a long slog — and even the grandchildren of today's scientists won't see the end of it.

But what a journey it will be.

Philosophy & Science / The Tyranny of Simple Explanations
« on: June 09, 2019, 08:07:22 pm »
The Tyranny of Simple Explanations: The history of science has been distorted by a longstanding conviction that correct theories about nature are always the most elegant ones.

Here the implication is that the simplest theory isn’t just more convenient, but gets closer to how nature really works; in other words, it’s more probably the correct one.

There’s absolutely no reason to believe that. But it’s what Francis Crick was driving at when he warned that Occam’s razor (which he equated with advocating “simplicity and elegance”) might not be well suited to biology, where things can get very messy. While it’s true that “simple, elegant” theories have sometimes turned out to be wrong (a classical example being Alfred Kempe’s flawed 1879 proof of the “four-color theorem” in mathematics), it’s also true that simpler but less accurate theories can be more useful than complicated ones for clarifying the bare bones of an explanation. There’s no easy equation between simplicity and truth, and Crick’s caution about Occam’s razor just perpetuates misconceptions about its meaning and value.   

The worst misuses, however, fixate on the idea that the razor can adjudicate between rival theories. I have found no single instance where it has served this purpose to settle a scientific debate. Worse still, the history of science is often distorted in attempts to argue that it has.

Philosophy & Science / Re: The Worth of an Angry God
« on: June 04, 2019, 12:47:33 pm »
One thing to note is the idea that religion with its rituals and sacrifice follows from agriculture seems challenged by Göbekli Tepe?

I thought that site showed that "The Cathedral preceded The City"?

Philosophy & Science / The Worth of an Angry God
« on: June 03, 2019, 01:38:00 pm »
The Worth of an Angry God: How supernatural beliefs allowed societies to bond and spread.

Brian Gallagher

Did humans need belief in a God-like being—someone who can punish every immorality we might commit—to have the big societies we have today, where we live relatively peaceably among strangers we could easily exploit?

Harvey Whitehouse, the director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, doesn’t think so. “Complex societies,” he and his colleagues declared in a March Nature paper, “precede moralizing gods throughout world history.” They relied on a massive historical database, called Seshat, which over a decade attracted contributions from over a hundred scholars. With the database “finally ready for analysis,” Whitehouse and his colleagues wrote in The Conversation, “we are poised to test a long list of theories about global history,” particularly “whether morally concerned deities drove the rise of complex societies,” some hallmarks of which are more economic integration and division of labor, more political hierarchy, the emergence of classes, and dependence on more complex technology and pre-specialists. Whitehouse concluded that those deities did no such driving. As he told Nautilus in a 2014 interview, as societies became more agricultural, what researchers see “in the archeological record is increasing frequency of collective rituals. This changes things psychologically and leads to more doctrinal kinds of religious systems, which are more recognizable when we look at world religions today.”

Joseph Henrich, chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, sees it differently. He contends that moralizing gods spurred societal complexity because belief in moralizing gods leads to success in intergroup competition. It increased trust and cooperation among a growing population of relative strangers, he said, and buttressed traits like bravery in warfare. “The word ‘moralizing’ is not a useful term,” though, he added. “People use it casually, because people are interested in morality, but the theory specifies this very specific set of things that increase your success in intergroup competition. Most people want to call greater cooperation, helping strangers, things like that, moral. That’s just a Western preoccupation.”

I caught up with Henrich earlier this month to discuss the anthropological chicken-and-egg problem of whether gods or complex societies came first. He was gracious in defending his position that gods were the bonds that allowed societies to gain strength and grow.

"...a consciousness without object is no consciousness at all…. Although materialism imagines that it postulates nothing more than this matter—atoms for instance—yet it unconsciously adds not only the subject, but also space, time, and causality, which depend on special determinations of the subject…. the intellect and matter are correlatives, in other words, the one exists only for the other; both stand and fall together; the one is only the other’s reflex. They are in fact really one and the same thing, considered from two opposite points of view…"

-Arthur Schopenhauer

Two Aspects of Śūnyatā in Quantum Physics: Relativity of Properties and Quantum Non-separability

The so-called paradoxes of quantum physics are easily disposed of as soon as one accepts that there are no such things as intrinsically existing particles and their intrinsic properties, but that both particles and properties are relational “observables.” Accordingly, quantum physics does not offer a “description of the outer world,” but rather a prescription about how to make probabilistic predictions within a participatory environment. The latter view (or rather criticism of views) looks quite radical with respect to standard Western Aristotelian ontology; but it looks natural in the context of the Indian-Buddhist concept of Pratītyasamutpāda which underpins Śūnyatā. Special attention will then be devoted to the quantum feature of non-separability, which displays remarkable similarities with Pratītyasamutpāda. Finally, the meaning of such twofold parallel between quantum physics and Śūnyatā will be discussed. This parallel will be related to the similarity of epistemological situation between knowing a world from which we are not entirely separated and knowing oneself.

Neuroscience Has a Lot To Learn from Buddhism

Ricard: A study of people who have practiced meditation for a long time demonstrates that structural connectivity among the different areas of the brain is higher in meditators than in a control group. Hence, there must be another kind of change allowed by the brain.

Singer: I have no difficulty in accepting that a learning process can change behavioral dispositions, even in adults. There is ample evidence of this from reeducation programs, where practice leads to small but incremental behavior modifications. There is also evidence for quite dramatic and sudden changes in cognition, emotional states, and coping strategies. In this case, the same mechanisms that support learning—distributed changes in the efficiency of synaptic connections—lead to drastic alterations of global brain states.

Ricard: You could also change the flow of neuron activity, as when the traffic on a road increases significantly.

Singer: Yes. What changes with learning and training in the adult is the flow of activity. The fixed hardware of anatomical connections is rather stable after age 20, but it is still possible to route activity flexibly from A to B or from A to C by adding certain signatures to the activity that ensure that a given activation pattern is not broadcast in a diffuse way to all connected brain regions but sent only to selected target areas.

Ricard: So far, the results of the studies conducted with trained meditators indicate that they have the faculty to generate clean, powerful, well-defined states of mind, and this faculty is associated with some specific brain patterns. Mental training enables one to generate those states at will and to modulate their intensity, even when confronted with disturbing circumstances, such as strong positive or negative emotional stimuli. Thus, one acquires the faculty to maintain an overall emotional balance that favors inner strength and peace.

How the dualism of Descartes ruined our mental health

While it is true that there is value in ‘normalising’ irrational experiences like this, it comes at a great cost. These interventions work (to the extent that they do) by emptying our irrational experiences of their intrinsic value or meaning. In doing so, not only are these experiences cut off from any world-meaning they might harbour, but so too from any agency and responsibility we or those around us have – they are only errors to be corrected.

In the previous episteme, before the bifurcation of mind and nature, irrational experiences were not just ‘error’ – they were speaking a language as meaningful as rational experiences, perhaps even more so. Imbued with the meaning and rhyme of nature herself, they were themselves pregnant with the amelioration of the suffering they brought. Within the world experienced this way, we had a ground, guide and container for our ‘irrationality’, but these crucial psychic presences vanished along with the withdrawal of nature’s inner life and the move to ‘identity and difference’.

In the face of an indifferent and unresponsive world that neglects to render our experience meaningful outside of our own minds  –  for nature-as-mechanism is powerless to do this  –  our minds have been left fixated on empty representations of a world that was once its source and being. All we have, if we are lucky to have them, are therapists and parents who try to take on what is, in reality, and given the magnitude of the loss, an impossible task.

But I’m not going to argue that we just need to ‘go back’ somehow. On the contrary, the bifurcation of mind and nature was at the root of immeasurable secular progress –  medical and technological advance, the rise of individual rights and social justice, to name just a few. It also protected us all from being bound up in the inherent uncertainty and flux of nature. It gave us a certain omnipotence – just as it gave science empirical control over nature – and most of us readily accept, and willingly spend, the inheritance bequeathed by it, and rightly so.

It cannot be emphasised enough, however, that this history is much less a ‘linear progress’ and much more a dialectic. Just as unified psyche-nature stunted material progress, material progress has now degenerated psyche. Perhaps, then, we might argue for a new swing in this pendulum. Given the dramatic increase in substance-use issues and recent reports of a teenage ‘mental health crisis’ and teen suicide rates rising in the US, the UK and elsewhere to name only the most conspicuous, perhaps the time is in fact overripe.

More Pauli:

“It is true that the distinction of ‘physical’ and ‘psychic’ is inevitable in theempirical world of phenomena, and it was the mistake of the alchemiststo apply a monistic (neutral) language to concrete chemical processes.But since matter has now turned into an abstract, invisible reality for themodern physicist, the prospects for a psychophysical monism have becomemuch more auspicious.”

“Undoubtedly the idea of the unus mundus is founded on the assumption that the multiplicity of the empirical world rests on an underlying unity,and that not two or more fundamentally different worlds exist side by side or are mingled with one another. Rather, everything divided and different belongs to one and the same world, which is not the world of sense but a postulate whose probability is vouched for by the fact that until now no one has been able to discover a world in which the known laws of nature are invalid. That even the psychic world, which is so extraordinarily different from the physical world, does not have its roots outside the one cosmos is evident from the undeniable fact that causal connections exist between the psyche and the body which point to their underlying unitary nature.”

“The ordering and regulating factors must be placed beyond the distinction of ‘physical’ and ‘psychic’– as Plato’s ‘ideas’ share the notion of a concept and of a force of nature (they create actions out of themselves).I am very much in favor of referring to the ‘ordering’ and ‘regulating’ factors in terms of ‘archetypes’; but then it would be inadmissible to define them as contents of the psyche.   The mentioned inner images (‘dominant features of the collective unconscious’ after Jung) are rather psychic manifestations of the archetypes which,however,would also have to put forth, create, condition anything law-like in the behavior of the corporeal world.  The laws of this world would then be the physical manifestations of the archetypes. ...Each law of nature should then have an inner correspondence and vice versa, even though this is not always directly visible today.”

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