Science and Religion: The Story So Far

I started http://www.scienceandreligion.com in the mid-nineties when nobody was interested in such an esoteric URL.  Regardless of belief in divinity, new research shows the biological benefit of spiritual practices, and has overturned long-held beliefs about genetics, the brain, and even the immune system.  This has caused a resurgence in interest in spiritual practices and may also be the reason why the much-ballyhooed tide of atheism only two or three years ago has petered out.

There are 21 points worth considering:

1. Your body’s DNA changes during your lifetime.  Your DNA is more a work in progress than a fixed asset.  Recently methylation changes have been noted in muscle tissue after exercise; though these changes were temporary (disappearing 48 hours after the test sample) it shows how susceptible DNA is to even minor activities.  Epigenetic changes caused by diet, addictions and environmental pressures can be so long-lived that, observing their effect in nine generations of rats, one researcher went as far as to say there seems no way to turn them off. 

As the intricate switching mechanisms, epigenetic changes, and the workings of vast areas of “dark matter” within the DNA are explored, the idea that “most DNA is junk” (Dawkins) is proving how much ignorance passed as wisdom only recently.  Clearly, we’re only just at the beginning.

2. Your brain DNA changes constantly “overturning all previously held theories about the brain”. Retrotransposons react to the moment-to-moment conditions within the brain and rearrange sections of the brain’s own DNA.

3. Oxytocin, a naturally occurring molecule produced by a small group of about 3,000 neurons in the supraoptical nucleus, is supremely beneficial for every system within the body.  Its absence is a noted feature of autism; a single intravenous injection of oxytocin have been noted to greatly improve cognition in autistic people for as long as two weeks.  Oxytocin is generated by emotions such as gratitude and generosity.  Both these emotions are stressed repeatedly in every scripture of mankind.

4. Meditation strengthens the cortex, develops the amygdala, enables the brain to resist age-related thinning, and creates higher levels of telomerase.  Telomerase is an enzyme which extends the copyable life of chromosones, and therefore rejuvenates the body.

Prayer, a form of meditation, has been shown to increase vagal tone, an essential measure of parasympathetic nervous system efficiency.  The bottom line: altruistic thoughts are actually healthier than selfish ones, an effect amplified by concentrated prayer.  Notable convicted fraudster Jeffrey Skilling (former CEO of Enron) justified a $132m paypacket (the year before Enron’s collapse) and based his abuse of employees on Richard Dawkins’ Darwin-centric The Selfish Gene, the altruistic model promoted in religions builds a sturdier nervous system.

meditation benefits

Not only is meditation becoming mainstream, its supporters are coming up with superior graphics! (Illustrator unknown)

5. Methylation of cytosine within the DNA physically strengthens the DNA chain, greatly increasing the force required to break the strands in laboratory experiments.  Since strand-breaking mechanisms are part of the burglary equipment contained within many hostile bacteriological mechanisms, methylation of the DNA explains why, all other things being equal, one person might resist disease better than another.

6. Epigenetics (1,2 &5) explains how the experiences of one generation are transmitted to the second and third generations (and beyond, in laboratory experiments on animals) and accounts for the ancient concept of the “sins of the fathers” being visited on the second and third generations.  This idea has been derided by militant atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens) as wicked and evil, though is an inescapable part of human biology.

7. The mathematics of protein forming and folding show that the body’s estimated two million different proteins, coded by at most 25,000 of our genes, and each of whose components number anywhere from 150 to 29,000 – could never be achieved incrementally or randomly. A small change in a single element can render a protein useless.

To give an idea of the scale of the complexity, I asked a company in California to build me a working model of a single hemoglobin protein, able to flip between oxidised and non-oxidised states, of any size, using any materials they like and taking as long as they need.  They say it is tooo complex and would require too much manpower.  And that’s with the design already known! 

hemoglobinInteresting note: hemoglobin has four spring loaded iron platforms which trap oxygen; it also carries nitric oxide, releasing it at the same time as oxygen, carbon dioxide, as well as other regulatory molecules.  The size of the hemoglobin molecule was first worked out in 1825 by J.F. Engelhard, using the known molecular mass of iron, as n x 16,000 where n is the number of iron molecules per hemoglobin. He was ridiculed at the time, as nobody thought a biological component could be so large. 

But his findings were confirmed in 1925 by Gilbert Smithson Adair – we now know n = 4, meaning hemoglobin has a molecular mass of 64,000.  Hemoglobin is designed such that the first oxygen molecule can only be collected in areas of high pressure – an exponentially easier loading system applies to the second, then third, then fourth.  This means, on travelling back to the lungs, hemoglobin will not rip off the oxygen molecules it left for cells on the way from the lungs. 

8. The mapping of three-letter codons within the genetic code to the amino acids coded for is the strongest (most fault-tolerant) in all possible configurations.  The number of possible mappings is more than 6 followed by 42 zeros.  This feature, among others, is statistically a non-random arrangement.

To give an idea how difficult it is to come up with the strongest configuration randomly, even if one tested two different arrangements every thousandth of a second (4.14 x 10 power 19) for 14bn years on a planet circling each and every star (7x 10 power 21) in the known universe, and have only one chance of coming up with the strongest – coincidentally the same one which has been in use on our planet from the beginning and which is measurably the strongest.  To make this achievement even more unlikely, the ribosome arrives pre-configured for this specific codon mapping.  This doesn’t look like chance to me.

9. The backwards facing retina is not the aberration pointed to by militant atheists as evidence of random design: far from it.  It is absolutely necessary for long-term function and renewal in sunlight, and the arrangement of opsin molecules, light-detection cells, and the retinal pigment epithelium has somehow been configured for the greatest possible sensitivity to light – able to detect a single photon, and able to renew itself so efficiently it can last unaided for a century of continuous use.

10. The appendix, often a target of atheist scorn, has been shown (SciAm Mar 2011) to be a miniature farm cultivating protective bacteria for the digestiive system.  The tonsils, once considered a useless annoyance, and extracted at the earliest opportunity, are now known to be vital immune system sentinels guarding the entrance to the body.  Routine extractions while operating on unrelated matters have therefore stolen the entire reboot mechanism from patients.  Whoops!

11. Mirror neuron activity shows that morality is hard-wired into intelligent species.  Rats will forgo rewards if they find their enjoyment of them causes distress to another rat, and chimpanzees display the same behaviour.  Observation of animals nurturing other species (a crow raising, feeding and protecting a kitten, a leopard nurturing an orangutang infant, a lion embracing a long-lost human friend who nursed it in illness) shows the mechanism can also work across species.  Since morality is a biological default, its absence represents a degeneration, but also lends itself to investigation.

12. Higher socio-economic groups have been shown to have reduced mirror neuron activity in a Berkely study.  Autistic individuals also show impaired mirror neuron activity. On this and other evidence of rampant materialists and their genetic offspring, materialism itself causes damage to the mirror neuron process, while its reverse – gratitude and generosity – seem to elevate the brain genetics in the progeny.

13. Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity as Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham and Gandhi (by Howard E. Gardner) found that the inverse is indeed true, that is, genius emerges from strongly moral backgrounds.  Since morality is stressed in all the scriptures of mankind, they have formed an important part of the evolutionary process.

14. Elevated creative states are invariably accompanied by an elevated religious sensibility, which finds expression through the creative act.  The lives of at least two dozen geniuses have been explored at length elsewhere in this blog.  The irresistable conclusion is that creativity’s impact is to stimulate insight into the transcendent nature of life, whether expressed in literature, art, music or the sciences.  If so, this arousal of transcendent moods fully explains the protective sentiment and fascination which works of genius attract.

15. The lives of highly gifted individuals are littered with mystical experience.  The racing driver Ayrton Senna is a recent example, while others include Gandhi, Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Victor Frankl, Walt Disney, Jack Kirby, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Glen Campbell, Leo Fender, Isaak Levitan, Pablo Picasso, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Einstein, Neil Diamond, Antoni Gaudi, William Blake, Henry Thoreau, Ralph Emerson, Edward Carpenter, Jackson Pollock, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarotti, Paul Gauguin, Roy Buchanan, Tom Thomson, Spike Milligan, Vincent Van Gogh and hundreds of others.

16. The lives of mystics show peak achievements at the age when the brain and nervous system are mature, generally around age 33, which indicates a role of the central nervous system in mystical experience.  The highest achievers in this field have been simple, uneducated men and women, indicating that mystical experience is a natural gift, and less likely to occur after years of forced memorisation.

17. The spiritual scriptures of mankind show a unity of purpose, which is the establishment of manners of behaviour and mental attitudes which lead gradually to an evolutionary development of the brain, at the end of which communication with divinity is a possibility.

18. The scriptures are also united in declaring that the abandonment of such a lifestyle leads to disturbing and damaging mental states.  This fully accounts for the forceful emphasis on the visual metaphors which have emerged from this school of thought, namely heaven and hell – one representing the normal evolutionary target, using a healthy evolutionary path, the other representing mental chaos and degeneration.

19. An instinctive reverence for ancient scriptures created centuries before the evolutionary development of methodical scientific analysis, can be accounted for by their contribution to a hygiene for the brain’s evolution.  Molecular biology is revealing  mechanisms which prove this to be the case.  Fasting, as a single example, has been shown to have huge neurological benefits.  Fasting not only accelerates chemical signalling in the brain, but stresses the neurons in a way which makes them stronger – as going to the gym does for muscles – and is effective in preventing Alzheimers.  More recent research indicates that as little as three days of fasting causes the human immune system to regenerate itself from scratch.

19. The aggression and sociopathic behaviour shown by leading nations in their treatment of those weaker or less fortunate than themselves – whether their own homeless, underpriviledged, aged or infirm, or third-world nations – illustrates this degeneration by soaring rates of ADD, Alzheimer’s, autism, addictions, sociopathy, bi-polar disorder, depression, suicide, violent crime, delinquency, social upheavals, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, schizophrenia, and dozens of other chaotic and disturbing mental states.  The WHO declares autism an epidemic, and that the medical world should prepare for a “tidal wave of dementia”; they state that mental disorders are the advanced world’s number one health problem.

20. Autism and atheism have been correlated in statistical and behavioural studies in which the similarities extend to focusing on details at the expense of the larger picture.  Frustratingly entrenched, fundamentalist and dogmatic thought patterns – whether religious or materialist – can be traced to specific brain configurations which avoid conflicting beliefs and find gray areas of subtlety distasteful, regardless of truths they contain.

21. Rupert Sheldrake’s 2012 book The Science Delusion details laboratory experiments proving psychic abilities to be a genuine occurrence and proposes a new scientific worldview in which these traits – common to humans and animals – are not a supernatural, but an entirely natural occurrence.

About iain carstairs

I have a great interest in both scientific advances and the beauty of religion, and created www.scienceandreligion.com about 15 years ago with the aim of finding common ground between the scientist and the believer, and to encourage debate between the two sides.
This entry was posted in Altruism, Appendix, Autism, Backwards facing retina, Biology, Brain damage, Brain Hygiene, Christopher Hitchens, DNA Methylation, Epigenetics, Evolution, Fountain of Youth, Genetic damage, Genius, Hemoglobin, Human genome, Iain Carstairs, Intelligence, Junk DNA, Materialism, Meditation, Natural Intelligence, Oxytocin, Proteins, Psychics, Religious disciplines, Ribosome, Richard Dawkins, Science and Religion, Senses, Sixth sense, Spiritual Genius, Telomerase, Telomeres, The Brain, Tonsils and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Science and Religion: The Story So Far

  1. helezus says:

    13 still remain! Only free of charge to skeptics?

  2. skywalker says:

    2 words … Just WOW 😉

  3. Joshua says:

    I was wondering if you had any studies or references to back up the post! Thanks!

  4. Toni says:

    Hi, do you have a face book page where we can get updates on new articles that you post?

  5. YoureHuman says:

    I have to say this is definitely one of the most well-written and informational posts I have seen by anyone that disagrees with atheism. I am an atheist myself, but I am always open to new ideas. I do believe that there is very little logical basis for belief in spirituality and connecting lack of reverence for religion to rising mental illness is bizarre. I tend to need a lot more evidence before I can give a claim like that any credibility. Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading your ideas. It is refreshing to see contrary ideas spoken without hatred toward intellectuals or intellectualism.

    Good job 🙂

    • Many thanks for reading, and the kind comments, what can I say!

      I don’t think it is the abandonment of religion which is causing mental disorders. It’s more complicated than that: man’s brain has reached an advanced state of evolution and in that state his behaviour needs to be different than it was hundreds of years ago, just as an adult needs to reform their behaviour from an adolescent, and an adolescent from a child, and so on. Since this self-reform hasn’t taken place, the more sensitive brain is under siege from a dozen different directions.

      Stress, even very minor stress, has been shown (this month’s SciAm) to have a catastrophic effect on the neurons. The abandonment of altruism, which generates protective neurotransmitters, in favour of greed and self-indulgence, which has been shown to decrease mirror neuron activity, is only one part of the problem. The other is that the brain is being flung about like a child’s toy: work related stress, endless competition,rivalries, fears of wars, shocks from the media on the hour, and even mainstream media presentations such as the National Geographic documentaries are so full of stimulating twists, turns and visual shocks that it is no wonder the brain is being utterly destroyed long before the end of life.

      These media presentations are not designed this way purely for information. The orientation time for the brain is 2 or 3 seconds for any new scene; the job of the editor is to switch scenes so rapidly that the brain becomes hooked before it is able to settle, and in its confusion and desire to know what happens next, unable to change channels. It is like trying to stand in a revolving tunnel. The brain is burning out its circuits trying to keep up, and why? Because someone wants us to listen to a terrible piece of music or watch a documentary that has almost no real information in it. In one of Mel C’s efforts, they switched scenes no less than 120 times in the first minute. I’ve seen some where they actually switch scenes three times in a second! It makes me want to puke from nausea. Can you imagine what the brain is going through, to generate that kind of discomfort? It is as if the brain is some kind of a toy to be poked and prodded and squashed into whatever shape we want.

      Added to this you have the senile attempt to multi-task: the brain swaps rules out and back in about 3 seconds, for any specific task, like, say talking to your wife rather than talking to your client, or working on a spreadsheet. To swap back and forth requires 3 seconds to swap contextual rules. But people don’t have time for that. So the brain, ever trying to oblige, is forced to use the short-term memory to hold rules patterns – which it is not designed to do – and which speedily burns out the short term memory, permanently. Memory loss is a feature of executive progress. The brain is being torn to shreds, in order to keep up with the pressure placed on it, and is becoming stunted and deformed, as a child would be if you secured a heavy weight around its neck from the age of three.

      In fact one doctor in the UK has warned of a “tsunami of dementia” coming our way. Why? Why should the brain of an intellectually superior race be degenerating so rapidly that the WHO say mental disorders are now the number one health problem in the world? The answer is that the whole lifestyle is now not in accordance with Nature. Man has become a rebel to his own nature, and has abandoned any idea of self-sacrifice, altrusim, generosity, gratitude and self-development. He is interested only in bigger houses, faster cars, taller buildings, more income, longer holidays, more clothes, expensive technology, and so on.

      This question of the brain literally being destroyed in a few decades must be the biggest cause for alarm today. Its degeneration is so obvious that revolting massacres, obscene crimes, horrible anti-social behaviour, and rampant sociopathy are on the rise everywhere. There is no escape from it anywhere on the planet. And in all of this, man is still building bigger bombs, and the whole world is preparing for war, gearing up for it. Tell me, where is the peace of mind which should accompany intellectual superiority?

      Man has simply abandoned the inner world. he is no longer interested in it. far more exciting is the new technolgoy, the latest phones, cars, computers and so on. And the result is that the brain is now falling victim to decline. Dementia even occurs now to people in their 30’s! This was absolutely unheard of two decades ago. So it cannot be age related. The destruction is even carried over from one generation to the next: do you know at the current rates of autistic births, within 22 years, 100% of children born will have some form of autistic spectum disorder? But still man is looking to new drugs or technology to fix it. The inner world lies vacant and unexplored. I even had one reader who insisted he could only find proof of God in a new book. You cannot reason with that kind of mind because it is totally fixated on the external world.

      You are right in that logic itself does not dictate spirituality, any more than it should dictate love and romance, or art for that matter. In some cases, people find themselves unable to justify even living, and so they kill themselves. There is no arguing with them. We see that there is a fault in their thinking, but using logic, they cannot be persuaded. In fact, logically thinking, a person would never fall in love or decide to have children because the risks and responsibilities are so great, that considering each person has limited resources and should be averse to serious risk, love is the most foolish thing they would enter into.

      Although there are many who feel that way, and I have known quite a few, most people naturally give in to those feelings and make a life which is based around it. Sometimes they do this despite themselves! But none of it is based on logic. We would even think it strange if it were. So much for logic! If you tell them their marriage is not logical, they’d look at you strangely, because for them it is very natural and gives them immense rewards. The same could be said for art. People devote their lives to it, suffering immense personal setbacks, and their love for creating sustains them. Where is the logic in that?

      When we examine the biology behind meditation (also called prayer) and altruism, self-sacrifice, honesty, devotion to a higher cause, we see there are neurotransmitters at work. So it is not mere idle wish fulfillment driving people towards these ideas; we can even say man’s normal brain seems to be designed for it. Certainly that is the evidence from the laboratory. Yes, there are those who shun it, just as there are those who ridicule the idea of having children, or entering into relationships. This state is normal for them as well – perhaps it is a nature’s response to an overcrowded world. But either way, people act in persistent ways not because of logic or because of illogic, but because they are designed that way, usually right from the very start.

      As far as the sense of other intelligences comprising the universe, some people have a sense of this dimension, and some people do not. To a brain already angled in that direction, the sense that there is an intelligence active all around in the Universe is unmistakeable, because the brain itself has developed this capacity. It is a valid sense, just as the senses of sight and of sound and like those senses, cannot be replaced by logic and cannot be explained by logic to those without them. yet the impact they make on the mind is unmistakeable and thoroughly convincing. But they cannot be explained by logic: by your argument, they should then be useless! But Nature is not in the habit of giving man redundant senses or redundant capabilities. The spiritual sense exists for a reason, and religion has simply reflected its pervasive impact over the course of history.

      But for those approaching the world solely through logic, they shut themselves out permanently from this dimension, just as a person sitting permanently in a chair never exercises their legs, and search though they might through books, the internet, and endless discussions and debates and arguments and lectures, for evidence as to the benefit of having legs, they never will develop them or discover anything about them other than by the use of their own legs. They could watch athletes all day long, but it would never change their own state, just as they could imagine the pleasure of eating all day and still starve to death.

      It is this stumbling block which causes the whole anti-religious mindset to one who is, from the start, intellectually averse to it. Using logic to defend one’s own spirituality is probably the most unconvincing argument of all, just as it would be to justify marriage. It is not based on logic, because it is a built in impulse. Anyway, that being said now many times over and over, I’m glad you enjoyed this blog!

      Kind regards

      iain

      • susan grace says:

        What a phenomenol and judicial response, Iain I’d love to have a copy of Sheldrake’s new book but fortunately for me and my brain, I am not a confirmed atheist. Perhaps I am wired to believe in a power greater than myself. If my life appeared out of nothing/nowhere, with no purpose or direction, and at the end of my life, everything I know to be my inner consciousness just went up into smoke, and my life had had no meaning, I’m not sure how I would feel.

        I suppose atheists say everyday that they do not need any kind of belief in the transcendent to make moral decisions, or be good people, and who cares if it’s dust to dust; when they’re dead, they’re dead. They have a point. However, no amount of atheism has ever been able to squash the spiritual sense. It just seems so embedded into the human psyche and brain.

        I have a friend who was an atheist until she had an awakening of a more powerful bio-energy within her system, and became witness to an inner engine just whirring away at top speed at the base of her spine. There was a biological process attending some kind of consciousness changing, spiritual awakening for her. She then made a 180 degree turn, and simply said “God Is” and she has never looked back or doubted the existence of a divine power ever since. How do we account for such experiences?

        I just feel that this cosmos is far too complicated and mysterious to rule out an intelligence behind it. I also have a friend who is a world renowned medical researcher, with a PhD from Harvard, and says with all humility that he does sense (and that it makes sense to him), as he marvels at the intelligence of pesty, stubborn viruses that humankind can not eradicate, that there is a divine creator but he at a loss to necessarily prove it — and to me, that is the mark of a healthy mind! He can’t say for sure, but he won’t deny the existence of God 100% either – his mind is staying open. I personally have a sense that this life, this intelligence that resides in my body is part of a much greater presence and intelligence, and that my consciousness will survive long after my mortal flesh has returned to dust. As the mystic/philosopher Gopi Krishna said and I paraphrase: “we find lumber, rocks, mud etc., all the building materials necessary to make a structure, but we don’t go into the forest and find a house created all by itself without an intelligent hand.”

        When a baby is conceived and born, it took 2 people with intelligence and consciousness coming together to make that baby (with exceptions of course for extraordinary medical intervention such as artificial insemination, but that still requires intelligent agencies such as active sperm, eggs, and a womb of a living female) – we don’t find babies ready made sitting in the middle of a lab, having appeared from nowhere. Not once has any scientist been able to create life in the laboratory without having as initial ingredients, some part or parcel of a living organism. So to take that argument further, it seems to make sense that our live and the boundless universe of which we are a part must have been crafted by an incredible intelligence as well, and one that our intellects can’t necessarily see, taste, hear, or touch.

        It is when more of the brain begins to function, perhaps adding in more right brain activity, or the activation of a dormant center in the brain per ancient Upanashadic and Vedic thought, that brings into purview a far larger view of the universe, one that reveals an entrance into more subtle and transcendental realties. Humanity’s history is heavily laden with such reports, and not all coming from a religious source. The brain too is evolving and who is to say what future man will think and know, when the untapped potential of the brain begins to manifest more and more. As scientists admit, the brain is the most complicated machine in the universe. Its mysteries are still unfolding and will continue to unfold over a long period of time. And it seems that the brains of history’s most beloved mystics, sages, leaders and creative geniuses were operating on a different level allowing them to tap in to a far larger view of the universe. The secrets to life and consciousness are in the brain. Change your brain, change your life.

      • One of the most eloquent statements about the limitations of logic, Iain. Well said. Please allow me to add that if logic were sufficient to explain the human experience of music, we could just have computers generate symphonies and jazz jams for us according to some set of rules. But although rational and logical analysis brings much depth to the study of music, we enjoy it most for its emotional, creative, intuitive, subjective, and non-rational aspects.

        The autism phenomenon, if it is as serious and widespread as you contend, could be viewed in the same light as the religious phenomenon. For if we consider religion the outgrowth of a neural/psychic function with an evolutionary purpose, then perhaps we can consider other mental states the same way. And what would be the evolutionary advantage of being withdrawn and disconnected? Perhaps in an world oversaturated and overstimulated with media and industry, withdraw is a naturally protective evolutionary response. Or, perhaps our big brains have gone out of control, and nature wants to tone them down some. Or, maybe natural selection in a highly urbanized environment has decided we no longer need our entire cognitive spectrum to survive.

        We could extend the question to atheism and other non-theistic trends, too. If we can ask why religion, then we can ask why atheism. What would be the evolutionary purpose served by abondoning a deistic impulse present since prehistoric times? Have the current forms of religion exceeded their evolutionary mandate and are now in need of some pruning? Is atheism the intellectual antibody to the rampant evils performed in the names of religions the world over? Could agnosticism be the healthy tempering of too much reliance on mechanistic logic? Could all this be part of an evolutionary house-cleaning in which ideas and forms that no longer serve humanity can be re-examined?

        No answers from me, just applying the question: why?

  6. Dear Dr. Iain Carstairs,

    Please enter my name and address as a possible recipient of Rupert Sheldrake’s book “The Science Delusion”.
    My address is : 10-12-3A, Azuria Condominium,
    Jalan Lembah Permai,
    11200 Tanjung Bungah,
    Penang,
    Malaysia.

  7. susan grace says:

    Iain wrote:
    “Autism and atheism have been correlated in statistical and behavioural studies (and in my own experience).”

    Iain, can you expand on your own personal experience that indicates a relationship between autism and atheism? I am most interested, and may have missed this in a past post.

  8. Well, from what I know about autism, the mind is focused on details rather than the overall picture. The degree varies depending on the severity of the condition, but in general I think this is fairly accurate. A severely autistic child can learn the rules about crossing the road, but will assume they only apply to that road at that time of day and perhaps only if they are with that particular person.

    Generalising is difficult for them, which shows us what a complex skill it is. Of course, seeing faces they observe a vast amount of detail, but cannot generalise it all into interpreting a specific emotion. If a fire alarm were to go off in school, a normal child would, after the initial jolt, get used to it and try to get back to what they were doing as best as they could, in the expectation that the noise would go away sooner or later.

    An autistic child would remain in the same state of alarm for the duration of the noise – a frightening possibility – unable to classify it in a larger context as something which will soon go away, unable to assume that an adult somewhere must be already trying to switch the damn thing off. So they are very vulnerable to normal setbacks and mishaps, because they can’t generalise them into an overall stream of events and reason them away. They often become reliant on familiar, reassuring rituals, like rocking from side to side, perhaps as a retreat from a world in which they feel quite vulnerable to upsets.

    Now take the intellectual who is something of a geek. An expert in a small pool or two of knowledge, and keen to present themselvese as such. To some extent we’re all like that, but it is more pronounced in him. Take a look at this exchange related to a Robert Fisk article in the Independent yesterday about the loss of meaning in modern communication, and notice how similar some of the comments become to some of the vitriol often seen against spiritual or religious ideas in the national press.

    What has always struck me as curious about a militant atheist such as Dawkins, who by his own admission will never agree to reconcile science with religion, is that I never hear him crusade against nuclear weapons – the most barbaric and cowardly threat in our day – although it poses a danger a million times greater than any other. He is understandably focused on up with evolution, down with religion, but as a global voice, why is he not using all his energy and every fibre of his being to rid the world of furnaces which can roast hundreds of thousands of innocent people alive – skeptics abnd believers – in a few minutes?

    It is as if this kind of mind sees only the details and never the big picture. Evolution is therefore very attractive to such a mind because it reduces a mechanism to its smallest components. While Darwin had a social conscience and knew his theories would make slavery indefensible, today’s angry fundamentalist types care only about ramming their ideas home. The fact that we are all on a conveyer belt carrying us remorselessly towards the gates of Hell goes completely without comment. In fact some people dismiss it as an inevitable consequence of technology and something about which nothing needs to be done. Others seem weirdly insensitive to the suffering of others, and declare their hope that it will “keep the population down”. This must be the same callousness which makes them eager to argue against and humiliate their opponents.

    The particular style of trying to climb “Mount Cleverest” by stepping on the heads of others is something which has been noted in fundamentlists on both sides, and it’s the thing which has generated a backlash against atheism, instead of the consideration which perfectly sensible questions deserve. Here it is in a milder form, beginning innocently, descending into angry attacks, and ending with carefully orchestrated flouncing out with barbed put-downs:

    Stonedwolf:
    *************
    “I’ve made no secret that I suspect the internet and text messaging have damaged literacy.”
    This is tempting to suggest, but I remember the early days of the Internet, along with the likes of Fidonet and BBS (bulletin board systems), when Usenet was pretty much the only forum around. The very low band-with of modems, not to say the tiny memory computers of the time, along with the very high cost of computers and internet access, and the difficulty in use, meant almost all Internet communication was among the highly literate. READING the Internet of the 90s was an absolutely joy.

    In terms of literacy the Internet jumped off a cliff (or jumped the shark or nuked the fridge) as computing costs and storage costs decreased, and bandwith increased, turning the Internet from primarily a format of reading to a format of watching and listening. It didn’t happen with Web 2.0, it happened with Web 1.0 – we simply didn’t call it that at the time. It was at the end of the 90s, you could see it happening. Websites started getting advertising banners. New, illiterate users, started clogging up the forums and discussions – we even called the AOL Idiots.

    As for the annihilation of national literacy, I think that’s a true thing, but it has been going on for a lot longer than a decade or so. The critics Fisk is talking of were already the Old Guard in their day. If we should look at any medium that ruined, or replaced, literacy, and shorted attention span we should consider the impact of the television set.

    Eoin Reynolds:
    *****************
    If you are going to put in your tuppence ha’penny on matters regarding the correct use of English I suggest you should begin with a little self correction. Band-with is an absurd term which, if you think about it for a moment, you will realise makes no sense. Band-width, on the other hand, at least has a meaning which even I, a computer illiterate, can grasp.

    Stonedwolf:
    ************
    On this old laptop the keyboard is tiny, the machine runs so hot it’s uncomfortable to rest the wrists on, and the screen is small.

    Do not mistake the medium for the message.

    Sophie marshall:
    *******************
    You are so pedantic that you point out typos? How sad.
    No, make that: Are you so pedantic that you feel the need to point out typos?
    I suggest, you have wholly missed the point and are possibly unable to answer substance and so resort to being pernickety. Now, that is a good definition of meaninglessness.

    Eoin Reynolds:
    *****************
    Excuse me Sophie but this is an article about the proper use of English. I think pedantry is therefore apt in this forum.

    Sophie Marshall:
    ******************
    Anyone who understood the proper use of English would not confuse a typo for incorrect usage. Silly pedant.
    Then your patronising parting shot? Risible.

    Eoin Reynolds:
    *****************
    Sophie, you’re actually making me laugh now. I didn’t call it a typo so to suggest that I confused incorrect usage with a typo is just silly. And as for my parting shot, I was merely mimicking your rather silly statement: “I suggest, you have wholly missed the point and are possibly unable to answer substance and so resort to being pernickety,” in order to show how risible your own comment was. Please try to keep up.

    Eoin Reynolds:
    *****************
    Also, I was not pointing out a typo. A typo is a simple mistake of the fingers. As this poster made the same error twice I would say that suggests a lack of understanding rather than a slip of the finger.

    FrankPoster:
    **************
    What a pointless series of comments from you. Rather sad.

    Saintlaw:
    **********
    Christ. What an oxygen thief you must be.

    Eoin Reynolds:
    *****************
    But don’t worry about it. You probably just aren’t capable of understanding the difference.

    ——————-
    You can see the effort is first to reduce a complex argument to a ludicrous simplicty, and then ridicule the person defending it. It’s as if the bigger argument is lost altogether. I have met two or three people like that in the computer world, in whom the tendency to narrow things down was accompanied by the need to be right, and a furious explosion would ensue if they were ever proved wrong.

    Recently I presented some of these science and religion ideas to a confirmed atheist, and I noticed the first thing they did was to simplify each argument to an absurdity. This was a form of ridicule, which is something you can’t argue against – in the playground it’s the most damaging thing because if someone calls you some ridiculous insult like a monkey-faced blimp, arguing against it only makes the absurdity more real. So it’s a kind of tar-trap – someone who is ridiculed either must rise above it and remain logical, which is difficult, or crawl away, which human nature normally won’t allow, or they start flinging ridicule back.

    It’s an aggression right from the start to seek out or create an absurdity solely to step on people’s heads. Rupert Sheldrake found this when he debated Richard Dawkins. He’d sent a huge amount of research to Dawkins, who refused to read it, attacking immediately by dismissing all research as rubbish if it concerned things he didn’t believe in.

    It’s this trait which I think joins some atheists (not all, of course) with the reductionist trend of the autist, the focus on details, the importance of staying on safe ground. Combined with aggression, it becomes very difficult to make headway even though the person is insisting they are only interested in logic! What they mean is, in their own logic. The reassuring, familiar repetitions of the austist resemble the pre-prepared insults and sarcasm used in arguments.

    One should be able to start afresh in any argument and react to what is happening in the here and now. The feeling when I deal with some kind of people is that I am never connecting directly with them, but only with something which they are holding up as a shield. Whatever is behind that loud drum beating might be similar to the Wizard of Oz – a frightened and vulnerable human being.

  9. donsalmon says:

    Hi Iain:

    Again, wonderful writing. one point – I recently looked up epigenetics, thinking it might be a good jumping off point for a critique of neo-Darwinism. I found Jerry Coyne (one of the more intransigent, fundamaterialists around), who said that even though according to epigenetics it is possible for a trait to be passed on, it dies out after 2 or 3 generations, and so does not lend any support to Lamarckian notions of evolution (heaven forbid, because that might suggest intelligence underlying the process of evolution).

    Help! Do you have any idea how to respond to Coyne’s claim? Are there other stronger pieces of evidence that epigenetics plays a stronger role than Coyne is willing to admit (and I have to admit, “fundamaterialism” is not my coinage; credit goes to philosopher Neal Grossman, who wrote a wonderful intro to Chris Carter’s “Science and the Near Death Experience”, the best book on NDEs I’ve ever seen).

    thanks!

  10. Well, yes, the lab researchers initiated epigenetic changes in lab animals and found that they couldn’t turn them off. They were pretty shocked, as they hadn’t been expecting any changes at all. It was permanent, inasmuch as it affected up to 13 generations. This made them realise the serious problem with addictions being passed on to kids; they are likely to stick around for hundreds of years, beyond any chance of people quietly coping with them in the hopes they’ll fade away in a few years.

    I don’t remember the article but I know I quoted from it; check epigenetics, or “sins of the fathers” which I think is one of the articles referring to it. In any case, since epigentics is a new field – discovered in the last one or two generations of humanity – how can it be possible for anyone to say its effects only last 2 or 3 generations?

    This sort of mental leap to silly conclusions is what greets all new discoveries. If it lasts one generation, there’s no reason to assume it isn’t permanent. Ask him to describe the de-methylation processes and studies etc and you’ll find he can’t do it – he’ll just turn up the volume on his original claim!

    • donsalmon says:

      Wonderful! You’re really up on these things. I’d love to see you have a dialog with one of these people. If you’re interested (it probably wouldn’t be worth the time, but you might find it amusing), there’s a dialog on Amazon on Chris Carter’s book, “Science and the Near Death Experience”. There’s a passionate anti-Carter comment from anesthesiologist Gerry Worlee, with over 50 pages and more than 500 comments responding. I tried to enter somewhere around comment 300 and ask the “pro-Carter” folks to be more respectful of Worlee and see what happens – they tried a bit and Worlee was still impossible. You have a real gift for talking to people you disagree with, with considerable respect. I look forward to reading more of your postings.

  11. Yes, but I get angry sometimes and it’s embarrassing but I can’t help it. I had to ban a fundamental Christian because he just wouldn’t connect with the discussion, and was offending other people.

    And then I irritated an atheist professor of some kind in Europe who patronised me; I compared him to a snobby lip-smacking food critic sampling discussions here and there not to resolve important issues but to please his fine discerning palate, and complain whenever the fine fare wasn’t quite up to his guzzling preferences, complaining to the chef about his FREE meal, so that after a heated exchange he flounced out in his cape and cravat never to return. Oh, how I miss him!

    The thing is, the world is in a terrible mess and there’s no time to waste. Especially on people who have no empathy, no intelligence, or no interest in anything but stirring up a debate and then sitting back to savour the emotions in the wordy storm, like some kind of vampire.

    I hate the whole intellectual discussion bit – it goes around in pleasing circles like a funfair, while people rot in dungeons, are worked to death as slaves for western interests, or watch their kids die of hunger because nobody with any power really gives a toss. Meantime the people with political power, or the global voices who can appear in the papers anytime they want, who should be out shouting and using their influence to change the world, sit around big tables sipping mineral water or preening their intellects in front of a cheering gallery. Or they waste their time tearing religion to pieces when they could be motivating large segments of society, intelligent people, to respond emotionally to the world and not sit back tapping their iPads and sipping their lattes and complaining that the intellectual discussions are not what they should be.

    It makes me feel sick to watch them squander their power for nothing, and it’s not really a time to be polite.

    • susan grace says:

      The idea has been put forth by biologists that if one stops the offending behavior that set off the epigenetic change in the first place, then that epigenome will turn off and the DNA returned to its original programming:
      (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1951968,00.html). Still, that’s a tall order, and a theory I suppose that can only be proved with more time and research! That means before child bearing age one must not drink, smoke, overeat, take drugs, etc., because in doing so, we condemn our progeny to an unending cycle of addictive behavior and eartly death. Though we may be tempted to succumb to the feeling that it’s too late in the game and the damage already done, what do we have to lose by changing ourselves, here and now, and acting as role models to others. Who knows where the rippling effects might reach out to. And on another front, as far as offensive behaviors are concerned, these are not confined to the West only; fairly abhorrent behavior occurs all over the world, especially in those non-western places where females have acid thrown in their faces for the audacious(!) desire to attend school; or girls forcibly held down and circumcised with crude, dirty instruments; and go figure that honor killings of women still occur in the 21st century. We do seem to be at a crucial juncture in history, and if it makes us feel a bit better, we can start making a difference in our own lives and communities; others may be ordained to act out on a larger stage; the point is, start with yourself and be happy for small victories. The field of epigenetics is a game changer. And so is Iain’s blog, definitely a bright star on an otherwise dark landscape.

      • You know, I think those of us who believe that the mental world is a real world, with a genuine existence, we must also believe that our thoughts and emotions are real things with their own power. We have this strange problem on our street, that people speed their cars along it. Well, the other day a friend and I just leaned over our front garden walls looking at the people going by. All of them slowed when they saw us. It was like our thoughts connected with theirs and it made a difference. They felt shame because we saw it in them.

        That’s a trivial example but in the world of politics and weapons companies and all the horror of modern society, every time we make some little discovery or get some inner flash of intuition, this stuff does change the world! Only a little, but it’s a significant effect. And this effect doesn’t drop off with distance: a friend sent me a chart which showed that after a group embarked on regular meditation sessions to slow down a crime wave, the crime rate actually did drop off. It is our thoughts of greed and indifference and hatred which allow these evils to grow all around us; then we blame others, but in fact the fault is everyone’s.

        We can’t very well say we believe in the mind and then on the other hand dismiss our thoughts as useless and our aims as hopeless. Religious people will stay religious and scientific people will stay scientific, but the positivity which we can generate will influence them both in a profound way. The idea is not to change people but to get everyone thinking about how to solve the world’s problems and get them excited about stuff which we have yet to discover which knits everything together and makes a big pattern instead of lots of little ones which resent each other, and with this enthusiasm try to make this a planet we can be proud of.

        I would be ashamed to present this planet to a superior race; how would we explain the horrible mess? If they looked us deep in the eye and asked, what did we do to try and make it better, what would we say? People should be whatever they already are but throw their mite in with the rest of the race, and I’m sure answers can be found to big questions. Why else do we live and say we are part of the human race? Why should anyone want to retire from this struggle which fills us with energy, keeps us young and alert, and makes every day worth living?

      • susan grace says:

        Here! Here!

  12. susan grace says:

    uuuh, maybe that’s “Hear! Hear”! I don’t know what the barristers say, but you get my drift! 🙂

    • I think it is indeed “Hear Hear!”

      The more I think about it, the more I see how useless property is, and what a deadening effect it has on the mind. It just caused me worry and stress when I had it, and I spent half my time protecting it or worrying about it. People upscaled to large houses and end up getting separated and divorced. What is the point of wasting such a short life on collecting this rubbish? The exciting thing is developing these inner powers, of perception, from the amygdala, and creativity, from strengthening the cortex, and intuition, and hooking up to the big emotions through meditating and sensing the group mind. This is incredible stuff! It is the brain everyone should be working on, not building big useless houses and hoarding loads of useless tat.

      Hooray for life!

  13. donsalmon says:

    Hi again – very nice comments on taking responsibility for our thoughts and feelings, recognizing that in a world that is profoundly and mysteriously interconnected, we each bear responsibility for allowing in (being a channel of?) as much Divine Light as possible.

    (procrastinating at the moment, putting off finishing a report – I’ll just be here a bit longer:>) I thought I’d share a story about autism and materialism – no evidence, just my own very personal observations.

    About 7 years ago, I was engaged in a series of conversations about parapsychology with skeptics on the (then very large) Journal of Consciousness Studies online forum. Although I acknowledged the general rule that anecdotes are not allowed as evidence in parapsychology (which of course is nonsense cooked up by skeptics, since in other fields, like geology and neuroscience, they’re simply called “case studies’ or “field research”, but more on that another time) – I made a request – assume these “anecdotes” are true. How would you explain them from a materialistic perspective.

    About half a dozen very literate scientists took me up on it. It was hysterical. They did exactly what you describe above – focusing in on trivial details, bending and twisting logic to fit everything into a neat, logical, orderly framework (using what Michael Gazzaniga called “the interpretor module” – the compulsion of the left hemisphere to fit everything into a comfortable story, no matter how much rationality and logic are destroyed in the process. Finally, a female scientist (there is good evidence that mild autism may be quite widespread in male computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians) made a lame attempt and finally threw up her hands (metaphorically) and said, “No, I can’t explain it.”

    So here’s the dream:

    I knock on the door of my neighbor’s apartment, an apartment I have never seen or heard described. I walk down a long hall, past the kitchen, into a small room then a large living room to the left. I see in the far corner of the room a white bookshelf with 5 shelves. I am drawn to look at top bookshelf, at the 5th book from the left, a book with a red and white cover about Carl Jung.

    That’s it. I wake up after that.

    Well the dream was so vivid, I decided I wanted to see for myself if there was any resemblance to the real thing. My neighbor was a music therapist, and I was working as a musician at the time, and also interested in therapy, so I managed to strike up a conversation with my neighbor the next day and went to the apartment to look at some music therapy instruments and books. There was the long hall, the kitchen, small room leading to a larger room, and lo and behold, in exactly the same position as in the dream, the white bookshelf. And there, the 5th book from the left on the top shelf, was a red and white book about Carl Jung.

    I only remember a few of the silliest attempts at explanations. “Well, there’s lots of white bookshelves” one person said. “How different are apartment layouts, anyway? You could easily have just guessed correctly?” And “as a musician interested in therapy, there was a good chance of finding a book by Carl Jung” (really? On a book shelf with 5 shelves, in the exact same position in a large room, in the same position – 5th from the left – with a red and white cover??)

    I invited forum members to guess the layout in my apartment and to guess what kind and or color of bookshelf I had? There was actually a few attempts and nobody came even remotely close.

    It’s so interesting, when you are actually able to engage a skeptic (really, debunker, so as not to insult genuine skeptics) they either refuse to engage in rational dialog (like Richard Dawkins with Sheldrake) or their meager attempts at logical engagement fall apart quite quickly.

    I think it’s a fascinating study, the mind of the debunker.

    Thanks again for your wonderful blog.

  14. What an interesting dream. The mother of one of my friends dreamed, in the 60’s, of a mountain of coal, and screams of children underneath it. She had no idea what to do about it, but it filled her with horror. A week or two later the Aberfan disaster occurred and she was beside herself with guilt, but what could she have done? The NCB’s behaviour was absolutely scandalous.

    The NCB even used the relief money – meant to help out the families of the dead – to move the coal tips which should never have been put on high ground near moving water. Blair refunded the money when he came to power – but never allowed for interest ove the intervening 40 years. It was a terrible disgrace and showed how the rich treated ordinary people with contempt. One father insisted that the death certificate of his child read, “killed by the National Coal Board.” The coroner tried to dissuade him, saying, “we understand you’re upset..” But the father was having none of it. “Put on the death certificate exactly as I say: Killed by the National Coal Board.”

    Yes, the debunker tries to fit an incomprehensible world into an egg timer, the way the fundamentalist zealot tries to fit the whole Universe into his pocket. It’s all the work of insecure and frightened minds.

    You must read the Science Delusion by Sheldrake, and after that, read How Animals Talk, and then, The Machinery of Life by Goodsell. And finally, Carl Jung!

    • donsalmon says:

      Well, since you’re recommending books, I guess I might be a tad immodest and recommend my own? “Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness: Seeing Through the Eyes of Infinity”. It is basically about Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Psychology, but the first 5 chapters are a wide ranging critique of materialism, with lots of interesting research on evolution and consciousness.

      If you’re not sure whether to order it from Amazon, you can see excerpts over at http://www.integralworld.net (this used to be a pro Ken Wilber site, but has changed a lot in the last few years). I’ve got a number of excerpts from our book under the title, “Ken Wilber’s Evolutionary View Gets a Trim With Ockham’s Razor”. I mention it now because there’s a lot about the evolution of consciousness, beginning with plants (that send out noxious odors to scare away predators) and slime molds (that are able to solve a maze to get food!) and go up to my favorite – Alex the African Grey parrot who had a vocabulary of over 100 words and was able to coin words (he spontaneously called a football a “two corner” after learning that a triangle was a “3 corner”). His last words (he died recently, at the ripe old age of 29, I think) were, “Good night. I love you.”

      • susan grace says:

        The intellect is a preening, proud peacock (apologies to the peacock!). It’s insufferable to see these Proud intellects so smug in their knowledge, thinking they know the end-all, be-all to life. It’s the height of arrogance, and actually they have my pity. I had a friend recently (a freelance author who writes humor and spiritual columns) write me and ask with respect to the Center for Consciousness Studies in Arizona : “I didn’t see any representation of Kundalini in this international conference. Don’t you think that’s a glaring omission? Or do you see it under another label?”

        http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/587014/?sc=dwhr&xy=10006631

        Kundalini research has been suggested as a model to study consciousness for almost 4 decades yet this provocative idea has been ignored by every researcher in the field of consciousness. Why? Even the late Director of the Max Plank Institute, Carl Von Weizacher, saw the merit and wrote the introduction to the trailblazing book about Kundalini, consciousness, genius, and creativity entitled “The Biological Basis of Religion and Genius” by Gopi Krishna who went on to write many other books on the brain, consciousness, and Kundalini as the evolutionary energy in man.

        Interesting that Krishna wrote to Aurobindo while in the throes of a major Kundalini awakening, asking for help, and Aurobindo wrote back in a letter that said in effect “Yes, you have awakened Kundalini to the 7th Center via the Tantric method; except I can’t help you; you will have to seek out a sage who has awakened it to the level that you have.” So Aurobindo was saying “you’ve gone beyond me”.

        There is not one that I know of in the the human potential and consciousness fields who will give the Kundalini hypothesis or the ideas of Gopi Krishna even a modest hearing. It stretches credulity. But things are bound to change, and that starts with Nature putting the proud intellect into its rightful place. We’ve gone off track, and Nature will stand it only for so long before She puts us right again. At that time, when man’s great pride is trimmed, and in an atmosphere of humility and surrender, will the mental environment be such as to accord to the Kundalini hypothesis the serious due it deserves.

        It’s sad that humanity has to learn from pain, but it’s the only thing that seems to get us to change; til then, we strut around as if we rule the universe as our own plaything and the proudest of our eartlhy smug intellects steer us wrong with no shame!

        Yes – hooray for life!

      • donsalmon says:

        Hi Susan,

        Nice comment! When Jan (my wife) and I were in Auroville (Sri Aurobindo’s community in India) we met a man – his first name was George, I don’t remember his last name – who was involved in a foundation trying to get funding for research on Gopi Krishna’s findings on Kundalini. There is enormous resistance still – less than even 10 years ago, but still there – to anything outside the materialist paradigm. Look at the reception to Chris Carter’s books on parapsychology and near-death experiences. Carter is, I think, a brilliant logician, setting out his case in stark, clear, terms. yet skeptics (o proud intellect!) simply ignore the facts and concoct wild stories to counter what they clearly fear.

        Iain McGilchrist has a marvelous book, “The Master and His Emissary” that is one of the best explanations of modern materialist skepticism I’ve ever seen, though that is not his main focus. The “master” is the right hemisphere, the “emissary’ the left. Before you assume that this is pop psychology trotting out old stereotypes about the left and right “brains” – McGilchrist was a literary scholar (at Oxford, I believe, though i’m not sure) before becoming a psychiatrist. He spent 20 years doing research for this book, and many of the world’s leading neuroscientists have praised his book. To avoid the simplistic “phrenology” of left/right brain, he often refers to “left mode processing” and “right mode processing”. The view has shifted in mainstream neuroscience from rejecting left-right differences (this was prominent in the 1990s) to cautiously accepting the very real differences in perspective that are reflected in this idea of left and right mode processing. McGilchrist has a stark, sobering account toward the end of his book, of what a world would look like that was dominated by left mode processing – and lo and behold, it looks depressingly like our materialistic, out of balance, “peacock-strutting intellect” (yes, apologies to the glorious peacock:>)) civilization.

        One last thing, Susan – Sri Aurobindo didn’t accept Gopi Krishna as a disciple because the aim of his sadhana was different. Sri Aurobindo saw yoga as the individual human effort to cooperate with a cosmic evolutionary process, and preferred to focus on surrender of all effort to the “Divine Mother” (cosmic shakti or Consciousness-Force) rather than the self-effort that was Gopi Krishna’s focus, and which usually results in an awakening of the energy at the base of the spine and often an uprush of energy through the various centers of consciousness (which modern materialistic science thinks of as various “ganglia” such as the gut brain, or the heart brain which is part of the new field of cardioneurology, or the mid-prefrontal cortex – third eye – which so much of interpersonal neurobiology is enthusiastic about).

        When neuroscientists examine the process of perception that unfolds each moment, and find that, prior to the elaboration of percepts that take place in the cortex, and prior even to the simplest sensation which we share with primitive organisms, there is a moment of “psi” awareness (Dr. Jim Carpenter of UNC Chapel Hill has elaborated this in his theory of “First Sight”, and then go beyond that, to Francisco Varela and Jeremy Hayward’s understanding that even before we apprehend the “world” by means of our underlying paranormal connection, there is a non-dualist “knowing” – a knowledge by identity” at the basis of every sensation, every perception, which can point us back to our original Unity with all that is.

        Here’s the excerpt from a letter that Sri Aurobindo sent to Gopi Krishna: (Sri Aurobindo is speaking of himself in the third person here).

        ***

        Sri Aurobindo cannot undertake to guide you as your Guru, for the reason that he takes as disciples only those who follow his special path of yoga; your experiences follow a different line. In his yoga there may be an occasional current in the spine as in other nerve channels or different parts of the body, but no awakening of the Kundalini in this particular and powerful fashion. There is only a quiet uprising of the consciousness from the lower centres to join the spiritual consciousness above and a descent of the Divine Force from above which does its own work in the mind and body – the manner and stages varying in each sadhak. A perfect confidence in the Divine Mother and a vigilance to repel all wrong suggestions and influences is the main law of this yoga. Your opening having once been so powerful on the more usual Tantric lines (even without your own will intervening), it is hardly probable that it could now change easily to other lines – any such effort might create a serious disturbance.

        In speaking of a competent Guru Sri Aurobindo meant one who had himself practised this opening of the centres and become siddha in that line of yoga. It should not be impossible to find one – when one has the call for the Guru, the Guru sooner or later comes. Meanwhile to put away fear and have confidence in the Divine working is indispensable – but no effort should be made to force the pace by concentrated meditation unless you have a guide whom you can trust – a clear guidance from within or a guide from without. The inspiration about the Ida nadi and the subsequent working of the Shakti show that there was an intervention at a critical moment and that the call to it whenever needed is likely to be effective.
        In the experiences proper related in your first letter there is absolutely nothing that should have disturbed you – all was quite normal, the usual experiences of the yogin at such a juncture, and very good and powerful, such as do not come except by the grace of the Divine.

        Probably the opening came after slow invisible preparation as a result of the meditation on the lotus at the top of the head; for that is always an invitation to the Kundalini to awake or for the lower consciousness to rise and meet the higher. The disturbing factors came with the feeling of discomfort in the heart due to some resistance in the physical being which is very often felt and can be overcome by the working of the Force itself and the fear that came afterwards in the seats of the vital Nature, heart, navel etc. But that was no part of the experience; it was an interference by a wrong reaction from the lower or exterior consciousness. If you had not allowed yourself to be disturbed, probably nothing untoward would have distorted the process. One must not get frightened by unusual states or movements or experiences, the yogi must be fearless, abhИ; it is absurd to have a fear because one can control one’s states; that is a power very much to be desired and welcomed in yoga.

        The crises related in the second letter would hardly have come, if there had not been this reaction; but in any case there was the intervention and setting right of the trouble. However these reactions and the fact that the disturbance came show that something in the exterior consciousness is not altogether prepared; it is better to wait and seek for a guide so that ignorant steps or reactions may not bring again a serious trouble or danger. It is all that Sri Aurobindo can say by way of enlightenment and advice. He does not usually intervene with anyone not his disciple, but as your case was an unusual one and your call was great he has given you what light he can on your experience.

      • Wow, welcome indeed to this blog – I find it incredible to read that letter! It’s part of history – also, that would be George Tompkins, I believe his name is, who made some films and interviews with Gopi Krishna.

      • donsalmon says:

        My goodness I think you’re right. Jan and I have such fond memories of him. He was very much an “American” in India (I assume you’re British, so you may appreciate the humor of hearing about us loud Americans). We have a friend in Auroville of Belgian descent, Georges van Vrekhem (his first name is pronounced “zhorj” roughly). Anyway, Mr. Tomkins was very friendly, gregarious and extraverted – a veritable “avatar” of the American outgoing businessman. Whenever we dropped by to see him, Mr. Tomkins was inevitably filled with excitement about some new possibility for funding his research, or eager to talk about Sri Aurobindo’s yoga and what it might contribute to Gopi Krishna’s ideas. Jan and I were in the thick of research on our book. so we enjoyed talking to him as well. And he would always ask how “George-is” was doing (I can’t quite get the phonetics of it; but he didn’t understand the French pronunciation, so he would always pronounce the final “s” on Georges’ name).

        Georges liked Mr. Tompkins as well, and always got such delight out of being called “George-es”. This was back in 2002; I’ve heard since then that there’s a lot more tension between the native Tamil people and the “white” folks (mostly Europeans and Americans); Pondicherry (where the heart of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is) has also gotten enormously crowded, and it is no longer so safe to wind through the streets on the small motorcycles that everyone used to ride. Jan and I hope to get back there for an extended stay some time in 2013.

        Iain – I’d love to hear from you if you have a chance to look at any of my integral world essays – I’m looking especially for constructive criticism – where I’ve failed to make my case in challenging materialism. Jan and I hope in the next year or two to start a website dedicated to this but we need a lot of critical feedback so we can present the strongest case possible. Meanwhile I’m learning a lot from your site. Your essays are really excellent (great photos too!)

  15. Hi, for sure I’ll try to read them in the next week; I’m sure they’re interesting. it’s only a question of time – usually I read in the evenings when the phones are quiet and emails tend to dry up.

    The work of Jean Claude Perez will be of interest to anyone constructing an intelligent worldview, and must be one of the nails in the coffin for random evolution – he’s shown that mathematical formulas govern the locations of codons throughout the genome, and that these formulas are consistent on every level, the way fractals are. He isn’t religious but he confirms that whatever the source of genetic changes, they could not possibly be random.

    The DNA is therefore responding to some kind of pattern, and his work is involved in finding out what those pattersns are. He’s been involved with HIV research for 20 years, if my memory is correct, and has access to a lot of genetic material.

    His books are in french unfortunately, and I wish I had paid attention in class more now!

    • susan grace says:

      Yes, I can also confirm that it was George Tompkins who was at Auroville. Mr. Salmon: Thank you for providing a full transcript of the letter from Aurobindo to Gopi Krishna. I’ve just heard bits and pieces of it over the years, and I believe that the original is either at the Kundalini Research Foundation office or with the Krishna descendants, but I don’t know if they even have a full transcript, so it’s a great service to provide it for us interested parties. There is a reason that Gopi Krishna never did find the guide he was looking for; and for one who one has read his autobiography knows that he tried with much effort but did not succeed in finding a guide. It needed to be made known that Kundalini awakening, without any doubt, involves an actual physiological process and potential within each human being, and this needed to be done in an environment free from the influence of any one particular teacher and lineage. Heaven wanted Gopi Krishna to be independent, and yet gave him the hints he needed every step of the way to avoid out and out calamity. In methodically charting and recording the processes of what was going on in his interior, brain and nervous system, Krishna was able to give one of the most insightful and detailed histories of the biological implications of a full Kundalini awakening to date. It seems clear, at least to me, from reading his books that he arrived on the shore of cosmic consciousness. So he did okay! And I’m sure Aurobindo’s letter went a long way in reassuring him, in spite of their own ultimately unique approaches and views to Kundalini Vidya. It was kind of Aurobindo to send that letter to a fellow human being going through the most mysterious, rare and confounding processes known to man.
      In refusing guru status, fame, riches (and he could have had these SO easily like his other contemporaries), Krishna, like Aurobindo, remained steadfast to the code of a true sage, one who selflessly serves with no thought of personal gain. Krishna said that the higher consciousness bequeathed to him was worth all the suffering he endured, and that he wouldn’t change his inner state of being for all the mountains of gold in the world.
      I see that Mr. Salmon’s book is indeed available on Amazon, and I think it needs to be added to my
      growing yogic library! Cheers to all for all the great knowledge shared with mutual respect on this blog!

      • Gene Kieffer, Co-Founder and President of The Kundalini Research Foundation, Ltd. says:

        I have in my archives all of the correspondence from Gopi Krishna to Sri Aurobindo and also all of the correspondence he (Aurobindo) wrote in reply to Krishna. Looking into the future, if I may, I don’t think what either person wrote will make a splash. What the Pandit (Gopi Krishna) wrote to Aurobindo amounts to less than a thimble of water compared with the Atlantic and Pacific. What matters is what Sri Aurobindo wrote for publication. That is what historians will judge, not what he scribbled to a humble man struggling to save his own life, which is in his autobiography, Living With Kundalini. I understand that Sri Aurobindo’s published writings are best measured by the number of feet they occupied on a bookshelf (19 feet?). As for Gopi Krishna’s literary output, much less footage, sorry to say. In his last letter to me, dated July 19, 1994, he said, “I will now write the book you have always wanted. . . . .I was ecstatic!! But it was not to be. He died before I received his letter. This shows that not even a man in the state of perennial Samadhi has the power to change his fate. Now don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of people have predicted their own deaths. Nothing so great about that, and anyway, who cares, except

      • donsalmon says:

        Hi Gene:

        Nice to hear from you. I’m not sure if you meant to be critical or were just clearing the record? My intent in sharing the story was in part – well, to share a fun story, and to offer an historical letter which I thought Iain, Susan and some others might be interested in.

        I just discovered this blog a few days ago. I’ve been, from time to time, whenever I get a chance, looking for open-minded critiques of materialism on the net for more than 14 years. This is the most even-minded, good natured, intelligent, aesthetically informed, etc etc site I’ve yet to come across. I’m particularly impressed that the comments are – even from atheists and skeptics, for the most part – respectful and sincere. So I just wanted to write and say I didn’t mean to start any sort of competition.

        But let me not be so left brained (or as Iain McGilchrist more wisely puts it in his ‘The Master and His Emissary” – stuck in “left mode processing”), let me tell a story instead.

        Back in 1986 (or 1985, I’m not sure) Professor Robert McDermott gave the first series of lectures at the New York Open Center. It was on “6 sages” (Ghandi, de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo, Rudolf Steiner and 2 others I don’t recall). I had already had some thoroughly enjoyable conversations with Robert dating back to the late 70s, and I was eager to hear his talk. My favorite moment was in a talk on Steiner, when he was listing a number of things that Steiner had achieved that he felt were missing in Sri Aurobindo. As he enumerated these, he added, “I don’t mean to say that I think that Steiner could beat up Sri Aurobindo.”

        Wow, maybe you have to be a crude American like me to like something like that, but I just loved this. I spoke to him about it a few years later when I visited him at the California Institute of Integral Studies, where he had just been elected president and was trying to encourage me to pursue my psychology doctorate there. He didn’t recall saying it, but said something like, “hey, what do you expect from an Irish Catholic guy who grew up in the South Bronx?”

        I hope this is not lost on you Brits and others from other parts of the world. If you ever saw any American films with ridiculously thick Bronx accents (is this the American equivalent of Cockney? I don’t know) you have to hear Robert’s comment with that kind of accent to appreciate the smile it brought to my face. (not that his accent was that thick; just that it called to mind that kind of accent).

        So I guess I’m saying, I didn’t mean to imply that I thought Sri Aurobindo could beat up Gopi Krishna (hmmm, it doesn’t work so well on screen – do try to hear the accent – there’s some good youtube videos on how to speak with a New York accent; this phrase may go better if you look at the videos also).

        Wasn’t Iain’s post about those astonishing illustrations of molecular biology just marvelous? What a great site!!

      • Don’t be perturbed – Gene has immense authority, insight and experience, and is a highly accomplished author. But he is also a good friend and a very amusing raconteur, so be assured that behind his gruff exterior, there is without doubt a gruff interior!

  16. Correction: Last letter Pandit Gopi Krishna wrote was dated July 19, 1984 (not 1994). He died July 30, 1984. I was automatically cut off while writing my previous comment (above). I meant, who cares, except possibly a few disciples? The point I want to make is that history is the final judge, and Gopi Krishna will be judged on the basis of his literary legacy, his discourses and the interviews he gave out. The phenomenon of Kundalini will be scientifically demonstrated to the satisfaction of believers and skeptics alike. This demonstration will change the world, although not soon enough, I’m afraid, to alter the course of events now looming on the horizon..

  17. Just wanted to comment on the oxytocin and generosity connection. You write that generosity produces oxytocin. I read in a 2007 article, “Empathy and Oxytocin,” (Science Daily) that when given oxytocin, people became more generous–a lot more generous–80% more generous! So the oxytocin thing goes the opposite direction as well. There is a reason why the donation baskets are passed around the church right after the minister or the choir open the hearts of the congregants.

  18. Indeed, that is true, and if a wife wants generosity, or perhaps forgiveness for a spree, sometimes the first thing to do is please the man somehow, generating a healthy cushion of oxytocin! The mechanism seems like a loop but under some conscious control. Yesterday, I think, it was announced that a gene has been found which regulates the type and behaviour of oxytocin and vassopressin receptors, which if I interpreted it correctly, means that our ability to generate oxytocin is partly limited by genes.

    With muscular exercise we might start with weak muscles, but exercise generates strength, but strength generates more exercise. We can’t say it’s only strength, or only exercise, or even only an exercise of will: it’s all three. So perhaps the action is more like fluid mechanics, where one event influences another. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to go and do something unselfish, but the reward is in the neurotransmitters generated. I remember exchanging letters online once with a chap who said he never understood what the “glow” was all about for doing good deeds.

    He occasionally tried to help others because he understood it must be the right thing to do, but was baffled about this glow which people reported. He felt nothing at all. I felt a little sorry for him! Even thinking unselfish thoughts can create a small glow of warmth, probably through oxytocin, I suppose. I also assume someone like that might be very much affected by a prevailing philosophy which claimed it was better to save your energy than to help others, as he was taking advice and working purely on autopilot.

    More extreme cases do exist, and they pass for normal people. They even gain respect by exercising the intellect and showing off their memorisation skills, something prized far above empathy in our halls of wisdom. I actually heard someone airily say only last month that it was better to let people die of thirst or starve because it kept the population down, and would teach them a valuable lesson not to have too many children in the future. When I pointed out these people in the particular newspaper article we were discussing were dying because of a drought, and not overpopulation, all he could say was that if there was no water, they should have known better than to have had children in the first place, and that it was “the survival of the fittest” (a bastardisation of Darwinism, to justify eugenics). I asked how fit for survival he’d feel if his water suddenly dried up and his children started to sicken and die, and asking for help he got the same message from the government, that it was tough luck for his being alive and having children, he just replied it was an absurd idea.

    Anyway, the research said some people were genetically more likely to be generous and positive even though they were well aware the world was sometimes a vindictive place, and this measurable effect correlated with the gene expression related to these neurotransmitter systems. For them the positivity was not a result of encouraging conditions found in the outside world, which they admitted could be an unfeeling place, but within themselves, and they acted in accordance.

    I think in any collection of people, not everyone will give generously when the collection plate is passed – and some are quite prepared to steal from it, no matter the sermon!

    • susan grace says:

      I happened to read an article the other day that heaped praise on Sam Harris’ new book about free will, which pretty much states, I gather, that there is no such thing as free will because the brain dictates what we’re going to do before we even do it. I don’t know a lot about Sam Harris, but do know he wrote The End of Faith, and he seems to make a big effort in finding everything wrong with religion, but little right. I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I get. And to think in his early days he got to chat intimately with someone notable on the forefront of the Kundalini research movement ; and yet none of that cutting edge/paradigm shifting information seeped into his world view which holds as king science and secular values, with no nod to the positive things for humanity that religion has been responsible for. Sure many of us would like to see less superstition and fundamentalist views in the world shoved down our throats; and, at the same time many of us don’t necessarily enjoy having the materialist view shoved in our face either. So I had a chuckle when I came across a portion of an essay by Harris which mentions oxytocin in the course of a heated exchange between him and a highly educated woman whose impressive professional resume has so muddled her thinking that she can’t bring herself to say that to force a woman to wear a burqua is wrong. (Ask me and I’ll tell you what I think and it won’t be muddled!) This is what troubles me – that such a highly educated woman can’t “stick up” for her fellow suffering human beings – where is her empathy? Obviously gifted with intellect and smarts, something seems to be amiss. And this won’t come as a surprise to many of us who know and understand that 5 university degrees does not a balanced human make.
      Here’s that excerpt:
      “As it turns out, to denigrate the Taliban at a scientific meeting is to court controversy (after all, “Who decides what is a successful life?”) At the conclusion of my talk, I fell into debate with another invited speaker, who seemed, at first glance, to be very well positioned to reason effectively about the implications of science for our understanding of morality. She holds a degree in genetics from Dartmouth, a masters in biology from Harvard, and a law degree, another masters, and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of biology from Duke. This scholar is now a recognized authority on the intersection between criminal law, genetics, neuroscience and philosophy. Here is a snippet of our conversation, more or less verbatim:
      She: What makes you think that science will ever be able to say that forcing women to wear burqas is wrong?

      Me: Because I think that right and wrong are a matter of increasing or decreasing wellbeing—and it is obvious that forcing half the population to live in cloth bags, and beating or killing them if they refuse, is not a good strategy for maximizing human wellbeing.

      She: But that’s only your opinion.

      Me: Okay… Let’s make it even simpler. What if we found a culture that ritually blinded every third child by literally plucking out his or her eyes at birth, would you then agree that we had found a culture that was needlessly diminishing human wellbeing?

      She: It would depend on why they were doing it.

      Me (slowly returning my eyebrows from the back of my head): Let’s say they were doing it on the basis of religious superstition. In their scripture, God says, “Every third must walk in darkness.”

      She: Then you could never say that they were wrong.
      *********
      “Such opinions are not uncommon in the Ivory Tower. I was talking to a woman (it’s hard not to feel that her gender makes her views all the more disconcerting) who had just delivered an entirely lucid lecture on the moral implications of neuroscience for the law. She was especially exercised over rumors that our government might have exposed captured terrorists to aerosols containing the hormone oxytocin in an effort to make them more cooperative. Though she did not say it, I suspect that she would even have opposed subjecting these prisoners to the smell of freshly baked bread, which has been shown to have a similar effect. …. I confess that once we did speak, and I peered into the terrible gulf that separated us on these issues, I found that I could not utter another word to her. In fact, our conversation ended with my blindly enacting two, neurological clichés: my jaw quite literally dropped open, and I spun on my heels before walking away.”
      http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/moral-confusion-in-the-name-of-science

      • donsalmon says:

        Hi Susan:

        What a great story (although I better be careful – I have 5 degrees also – uh oh:>))

        Jan (my wife) is often amused at how one minute, I conclude that skeptics (of the religious fundamentalist or materialist – or fundamaterialist, as philosopher Neal Grossman refers to the latter) are impossible to have a dialog with and I should just give up…… and the next minute I’m furiously typing away trying to reason with a skeptic.

        Actually, it was interesting talking to Biblical fundamentalists in Greenville, South Carolina where we lived for 9 years (moving there after 30 or so years in the very leftist, secular and somewhat “New Age”, East Village section of New York City). I did actually find a few who were capable of dialog. But then, I occasionally found secular passionately anti-mystical Marxists in NY who were interested in dialog (we actually based a chapter in our yoga psychology book on a conversation I had with one – he insisted that outer socio-political change was fundamental,. I agreed that outer change was important but felt that it had to be based on a fundamental inner change. We were at loggerheads until I suggested this scenario – imagine all the institutions of the world were changed in the blink of an eye; sufficient food, water, clothing, housing, etc were available in that same blink of the eye, to all people. All constitutions, laws, etc were rewritten to maximize liberty, equality and fraternity. How much do you want to bet it’s going to be a lot less than 24 hours before some people start trying to take advantage of each other?

        Now, I said to him, let’s try another scenario. you leave all the institutions, laws, constitutions, in place, you don’t change anything external, but in the blink of an eye, everyone on the planet is suffused with infinite compassion, wisdom and love. How much do you want to bet that in far less than 24 hours, peace breaks out, fairness and liberty spread through the world, and – in not too many days or weeks beyond that initial 24 hours, all the changes in institutions, laws, constitutions, etc you want are implemented.

        He got it; I was totally amazed. And this guy was a totally committed Marxist who poo-pooed any even minimal importance for inner change.

        But that is very rare in my experience, and I haven’t learned my lesson. Over at the integral world forum, I just recently posted what I’m calling “The Richard Wiseman Challenge”. You all may know in 2009 Wiseman, a psychologist and long-time passionate anti-parapsychology skeptic, stated that in his opinion, based on long years of study, the evidence for psi (specifically, telepathy, remote viewing, psychokinesis and precognition) is as good as that in any other area of science. He then goes on to say, “But that’s not good enough, since psi is extraordinary, we need extraordinary proof, better than in any other area of science (actually, Robert Rosenthal, one of the world’ sleading experts on scientific methodology, has pointed out in the past that psi methodology may actually be better than that in other areas of science – definitely in the social sciences, but technically speaking, psi actually has a better rate of replication than physics!! (I think that the last number I heard was that if physics experiments were held to the same precise standard of replication as psi research, only about 48 or 49% of physics experiments could be replicated).

        So my challenge is, let’s take the first part of Wiseman’s statement – that psi has as good evidence as that in any other area of science – and test it out. What would be the implications if we took those 4 areas of psi as real, how would it change physics, evolutionary biology, psychology, neuroscience, etc?

        So far, nobody online has been willing to take it. They love to argue with it, find fault with it. I then go on to say, “you know, the whole RW thing is just a trick. I don’t really care if he’s right or not. I just used that to make skeptics feel perhaps a bit better about trying this out. Forget him, and just play along – you say that psi would revolutionize science. You agree with Donald Hebb (neuroscientist) who says that if psi were true, there must be something “horribly” wrong with physics, biology, etc.

        Well, what is it? How would physics be different? Give me some specific details beyond “psi invalidates the inverse square law”, or “the conservation of energy”. How? How would psi revolutionize evolution, neuroscience?

        I wrote Dean Radin about this some time back, and asked if he knew of any specifics that skeptics have offered beyond the 2 I mentioned (and I’m not talking about criticisms of the research – there’s libraries full of that – I mean specifics about psi would radically change the sciences? Nada, zip, nothing, Dean didn’t know of anybody who’s ever spelled it out.

        So if you want to see some skeptics like Susan’s colleague, dancing around and avoiding ever answering a simple question, drop on over to the integral world forum. I’ve got three threads there now – “The RW Challenge”, “Discussing the RW Challenge” (which I set up in a request to save the arguments for that thread; of course, people just kept arguing on teh first thread). and one more called “The Anon Challenge”.

        I tried the RW challenge with Gerri Worlee, an anesthesiologist from Holland who has been arguing and attacking Chris Carter’s “Science and the Near Death Experience” for several years, and though no doubt very intelligent in the way that woman Susan spoke to is, seems utterly incapable of listening for a moment to any other point of view. You can see his review of Carter’s book over at Amazon, and some 50 pages and more than 500 comments. Truly amazing.

        I should learn my lesson and just give me. But I found someone here in Asheville, NC – a charming, very intelligent fellow, a passionate skeptic as well, who’s agreed to take the RW Challenge. Unfortunately, I don’t have time right now to do it, but we hope later this year to give it a try.

        I’ll let you folks know how it works out. Susan, maybe I’ll learn my lesson one day. You might also want to look at Chris Mooney’s book on neuroscience and political views. I think there’s increasing evidence (George Lakoff and Jonathan Haidt have some good research on this too) that left/right political differences really have nothing to do with rationality or logic. Fascinating stuff.

      • This woman is an example of what happens when a human being abandons natural intelligence, common sense, empathy.. if you looked in her “oxytocin generating cabinet” you would only find some belly button lint, a squashed coke tin, a rusting supermarket trolley and and a dead pigeon.

        In the halls of learning, memorisation skills are valued more than empathy. This is the whole problem with society: Dawkins often says he can’t see any connection between atheism and terrible acts, but I see a strong line between intellectualism and terrible acts. Here’s a case which hit the papers not five months ago, in Scotland I believe:

        Your woman reminds me of the fire superintendent who let a woman die in a mine shaft right in front of him because the regulations stated a fire truck winch was designed for rescuing firemen. Nowhere did it state that it could be used to pull a woman with a fractured pelvis and broken ribs out of a collapsed hole in a field. So while they all stood around discussing the regulations for two hours, the woman died of her injuries. She was the mother of two small children and had simply been crossing the field when the shaft collapsed. This cretin of a superintendent was unapologetic: “I am not prepared to risk any further resource in the contravention of regulations.” He later got promoted for his bravery – they should have rescued the woman, pushed him in the hole, and driven away.

  19. donsalmon says:

    oops, i lost track – i only have 4 degrees; I guess I’m saved from academic/left hemisphere semi-autism syndrome:>)))

    • susan grace says:

      Mr. Salmon: You are saved from the curse of having a narrow, petty, semi autistic mind…not by virtue of your keen intellect, but by virtue of your humanity, warmth and sense of humour! Keep up the good work. I should say too that the person who was engaged in that verbal back-and-forth with the over educated myopic academic, was not I, it was Sam Harris. Also, I am a firm believer in doing the inner work. We have to change ourselves from the inside out first to reap the outer benefits. Seriously, I can’t believe that some people don’t get this. Millions of people are doing it in 12 Step work, or though their individual spirituality or other self improvement vehicles. I’m sure we all know people who when they began to make changes to themselves, experienced improvements in their relationships all across the board; perhaps a divorce was staved off; or an estrangement was healed; or the fulfillment of a dream took place . My personal view is that the world would be a much better place if each one of us would simply do the work of working on ourselves, instead of acting out. But wait, doing that requires deep self introspection and looking into our dark crevasses. Not easy, whatsoever. Those who point fingers (and more) at others and yell “infidel” or “heathen” or other labels and criticisms- suffice to say they’re not working first on themselves because everyone else is the problem in their mind. They reveal more about themselves and their level of consciousness than they may realize.

      One of my favorite sayings (and I keep this near and dear to my heart) is from “Ancient Secrets of Kundalini in Panchastavi” in which Gopi Krishna wrote:

      “It is only the inner transformation that can change for the better the outer environment of mankind.”

      Wouldn’t it be nice if the majority of humanity engaged in such an experiment to test the verity of the Pandit’s statement? I think we’d see a changed world.

      Warm wishes to all!

      • donsalmon says:

        Thanks Susan, that was sweet (and anyway, I wasn’t too worried, my degrees are not “big shot” degrees like the woman you mentioned – undergrad in piano performance, then a masters in music composition (boy, imagine the psi skeptics taking a pot shot at that!!), then a masters at an “alternative” psych program (where they taught rubbish like humanistic and transpersonal psychology) and finally a doctorate from a mainstream program in clinical psychology (“clinical psychology”! nonsense:>))

        Well, after being attacked over at the integral world forum for daring to presume that my challenge to explore the possibility of psi was original and had never been done before, I got an answer from one of the two attackers, saying, essentially “it probably hasn’t been done because the skeptics who don’t believe in it dont’ think it’s worth the time to think it through”

        !!!!

        1. Don, you’re awfully arrogant to think your challenge hasn’t been attempted before.
        2. Nobody has attempted it because they didn’t think it was worth the bother.

        Mightn’t you slightly suspect (or as the charming saying here in the South goes – “might could” you suspect?) that in between 1 and 2, my attacker might add, “yes, you’re correct. it hasn’t been done before. Here’s why”

        By the way, I actually did live down South for a 2 year period in the early 90s (that’s when I was getting my “alternative” masters). It was in southwest Georgia (about 10 miles from Alabama; the Georgians all felt like Georgia was a beacon of progressive thought compared to Alabama, about which they felt quite concerned). I had a wonderful conversation with a census worker who had studied various Southern dialects for a number of years. He told me that many people who live in the Southeastern region of the United States are descendants of a relatively small group of immigrants from a few areas in Northern Ireland and nearby areas of Scotland. And that the accent and expressions (like “might could”) of many in the deep South are remarkably similar to the language of those British immigrants from several centuries back!

        But I digress – I do think there is some kind of autistic or semi autistic phenomenon going on with skeptics. have you read Sam harris’ recent musings on neurological/evolutionary (materialistic, that is) explanations for morality. Try imagine having a conversation with him, bringing in some of Iain’s beautiful observations about beauty, awe and wonder reflecting something beyond the ordinary materialistic view. Try imagining what it would take to convey the multi-dimensional richness and magnificence of traditional notions of justice, honesty, etc as reflections of dharma, of Divine Order, of what the Vedas called “rita” – and then feel – really feel – what it’s like to be told that all of these things are just superstructures erected on a base of evolutionary need (that is, a purely materialistic vision of evolutionary need; not the sort of vision of evolution that sees it as a wondrous dynamic unfolding expression of Allah’s “I was a hidden treasure and sought to be found” or Paul’s “The whole of creation is yearning for the emergence, the unfolding, the evolution if you will, of the Divine”

        Impossible!

      • Some great observations being made here and I almost hate to interrupt; I was talking to my daughter’s RE teacher and he turned out to be an expert on the Qur’an. He said Mohammed wrote the whole thing – it would have been the ultimate blog in his day – and sometimes when trying to slant the revelations to appeal to a wider group, he might change the tone of it slightly, which you can well understand. In this way he managed to invite and unite a very large and disparate group of people, and change their worldview. A friend of mine who was born a Prince from Bolochistan gave me his copy of the Qur’an and I confess I haven’t read it all the way through, but it’s time I did.

        On another side, Robert Crumb was going to do a satire of Genesis, but after reading it, he fell in love with it an dillustrated it start to finish! And I tell you what, he brings the whole thing to life. One of his friends helped with the authenticity; for a culture like ours, used to seeing images and having a lot of imaginative stuff already projected into reality for us, this really opened my eyes. It’s almost like a Divine narrative as told by a fallible human being. In that perspective, one instantly detects the underlying sentiment and how it ebbs and flows with the worldly events befalling the people themselves, and how they try to hang on to their faith.

        This article by Jeff Sparrow about the weaponisation of atheism is well worth reading. But for the short of time, here are a couple of extracts:

        Attendees at the convention can, after all, hear much the same thing from Sam Harris, another of the so-called ‘Four Horsemen’. Harris, like Hitchens, thinks that atheists have a special insight into the war on terror, which should, he says, understood as a conflict against ‘a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise’. Most liberals, he continues, fail to understand ‘how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are’. Indeed, ‘the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.’

        Harris calls himself a liberal but his positions on Islam are to the Right of any Australian parliamentarians, with the possible exception of Cory Bernardi, a notorious conservative crank.

        Ayaan Hirsi Ali, another conference speaker, carves out similar territory. ‘We are at war with Islam,’ she says bluntly. ‘And there’s no middle ground in wars.’

        Elsewhere, Hirsi Ali, a fellow at the neonconservative American Enterprise Institute, explained the home front consequences of that total war. ‘All Muslim schools. Close them down. Yeah, that sounds absolutist. I think 10 years ago things were different, but now the jihadi genie is out of the bottle.’

        Again, it’s the sort of stuff you’d expect to hear from Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer or other sinister representatives of the so-called ‘counter-jihad’ movement.

        Such is weaponised atheism: arguments for war and state repression, tricked out as scepticism.

        If, then, you wanted to understand the role of religion in Iraq or Afghanistan, simply assessing the truth claims in the Koran does not get you very far – indeed, in some ways, it’s almost a category error. Islam, like all religions, functions on many different levels. It offers, for instance, meaning to people subjected to death and suffering often inflicted by the advanced countries of the West. It provides charity where no social services exist; it gives voice to nationalist resistance in nations where the secular Left was widely discredited by its Stalinism. And it does many other things besides.

        Sparrow’s conclusion is a stunner, and needs to be kept in mind:

        If religion is a social phenomenon, it will persist so long as social conditions render it necessary. That’s why the defeat of the atheist Right, and the revival of an atheist Left, matters so much. Denouncing God is easy. What’s harder – and much more important – is creating a world that no longer has need of Him.

      • There are fanatics in every religion. I’ve met some of them. And the fanatics of the various religions understand one another better than those who are searching and trying to understand all viewpoints. A fanatic is sure that they are doing what they do in the name of a higher good or right, whether it is God-ordained or idealistically motivated. Maturity is learning to question one’s motives and wisdom is learning to be directed by one’s highest loving Self. I’m not there yet, but I can sure sense when others are. Bless them.

      • Yes, it would be reassuring to understand that those who won’t entertain the thought that there might be more out there than materialism simply suffer from autism. Personally, I’ve come to think that many are just very, very afraid. Maybe fear of death; I don’t know. But afraid of some of the structure they’ve carefully built around them falling apart. I think they all need to take at least one dose of a psycholytic, under supervision of a trained support person. It’s almost like they all have PTSD. 🙂

  20. One last comment. Thanks for the timely info about the importance of the appendix. I am guessing that most readers on this list do not know that the appendix is the organ of choice for use in bladder reconstructive surgery in those with congenital neurogenic urological problems. Several thousand children with spinabifida, bladder exstrophy, and related bladder incontinence problems have already undergone or are presently undergoing reconstructive surgery in which an artificial channel from the bladder to the navel is created by using the appendix. The child then catheterizes via the navel instead of through the urethra. The goal is continence. In some cases the bladder neck is closed entirely to stop leakage. This population typically undergoes the most surgeries and spends the most time in hospitals over their lifetime. Hospitals are the very places to pick up C.difficile. So imagine my horror to know that my daughter is about to undergo this surgery. It is bad enough to know that she will have to deal with muscular constrictions, scar tissue, bladder infections, and many other possible complications over her lifetime as a result of this surgery. But susceptibility to C. difficile on top of everything? Hardly seems very fair. If you are tempted to write questioning why my daughter would choose to undergo this drastic surgery with so many dangers, you underestimate just how horrible it feels to be an incontinent teenager.

    • susan grace says:

      My thoughts go out to Sharon’s daughter, and Sharon and her family as well. It’s certainly an individual choice to undergo such a surgery and should engender no criticism or judgment; I admire your daughter and you for embracing the unknown, hoping that the dawn emerges on the other side with full recovery, health and well being. Please let us know how it goes, if you wish. We care!

  21. I’m terribly sorry to hear about those problems – really, I can understand the hugely difficult set of choices for a teenager to have to be involved in. I’m sure anyone reading this will send her their best, and may I add how brave she is to be undergoing this. My thoughts are most definitely with you, and thanks for writing.

    • donsalmon says:

      Hi Sharon – I apologize if this is irrelevant. i have no expertise in this particular area (incontinence, that is) but I have personally witnessed near-miracles in what the mind can do to change the body. In my first day of neuropsychology lectures, I mentioned that I had been working with a patient with severe multiple sclerosis. she had come to me because of severe physical pain. However, in the course of working with her, she mentioned that her hands were so cramped she had been barely able to write legibly for almost 3 years. An image came to mind, and I decided – I wasn’t even sure consciously why I chose this – to have her experiment with a piano warm up exercise I had learned many years before; one that required extremely precise sensory attention to the fingertips. We tried it (it involves holding the hands together palms facing, and trying to bring the fingertips as close together as possible without touching; it requires a constant, moment to moment readjustment of position). After about a minute, I saw something shift in her face and I called out, “Get a pen immediately and start writing.” She did, and the writing was easy and clear, and she started crying as she wrote.

      In neuropsychology class, I had neglected (not on purpose) to mention that this took place over the course of a minute or so. When i told the story, the teacher calmly (condescendingly?) explained that this kind of remylenation has been known to happen with MS patients over the course of a few months (he had that kind of tone that indicated he was very happy to debunk any sort of “miraculous healing”). I then mentioned that it happened in about a minute or so and he sniffed, “impossible!”

      I tell this story, Sharon, because I wanted to make a suggestion for an alternative to surgery if it’s not too late; and I thought if you aren’t familiar with this kind of thing, it might seem impossible. If you google “incontinence” + mindfulness, you’ll find the first two links are

      http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01470560
      http://clinicaltrialsfeeds.org/clinical-trials/show/NCT01470560

      experiments using mindfulness to reduce the symptoms of incontinence. The nice part is there’s no negative side effects, but of course, I have no idea if it will work; but it’s free and it can’t hurt. There’s tons of positive side benefits, like increased self-confidence, more mature judgment, decision making, increased positive affect, etc etc.

      You can also google incontinence + relaxation, or imagery – I find that children and teenagers often have an easier time with these – relaxation can be very physical and imagery is often easier and less abstract than mindfulness.

      But again, this may be too late or it may not work or may not be to your daughter’s liking – but I thought it was worth a try.

      Good luck to you both!

      • Thanks for your concern. When my daughter was young, maybe 6, we did pelvic biofeedback with computer games and all. It was a great idea and she got really good at it. As a result, she is quite kinesthetic. But unfortunately it didn’t help with her continence. Apparently she has both the nerve deficit from the tethered spinal cord damage as well as a faulty anatomy, where the urinary sphincter just doesn’t function. It has taken us years to learn that much. I truly believe in our ability to undo the damage we have inflicted upon ourselves in our lives, but I don’t know about the damage we come in with. I will go look at those websites though.

  22. I have a question for the group. I recently heard about a small conference being sponsored by the Psychiatry Dept of Kings College in London on the subject of “revelation.” As that is one of the subjects I researched for my (as yet in progress) dissertation and as I am having difficulty getting anything I’ve written actually published, I worked my tail off and sent them an article to accompany the conference. I think they didn’t even look at it. And I don’t suppose they passed it on to attendees. I have now had a little bit more time to rework the article. It’s about 6600 words. I’d like to offer it to them again for publication with their protocols. But if they turn me down, I wonder if anyone has a suggestion what publication might be interested in an examination of revelatory experience, from biophysical and systems perspective, which I have developed by analyzing the ecstatic experience evoked through gospel choir and Pentecostal worship service. Personally I think its fascinating stuff, and a bit groundbreaking. Of course many “autistic” scientists immediately write it off as pseudo-science without seriously considering the evidence. 🙂 Also, if anyone wants to read it and offer comments (as long as you promise not to steal credit for its contents) I am happy to pass it on to you. dreyfalex@aol.com

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