Archive for the ‘Medicine’ Category

Is religious belief a mental disorder?

January 9, 2011

I have spent this entire day arguing with a bitter atheist who insists that anyone with any sort of religious belief (i.e. having “an invisible friend”) must have a mind that is so suspect that their scientific research must be questionable. I find such a notion as abhorrent or even more abhorrent than the notion that people with darker complexions have inferior intellects or that blond haired blue eyed people are a master race. My arguments included medical doctors among “scientists” and the one M.D. who I admire VERY MUCH and thought of all during my arguments is Melissa who is a better doctor precisely because of her religious values. Another disputant in that thread is a professional scientist who said that he doubts many scientists are religious because he rarely hears any of his colleagues express religious sentiments. I countered that every human being has a sexual dimension and I am quite sure he has never seen any of his colleagues behave in a sexual fashion. That does not mean they do not have a sexual side but simply means that they are professionals and they compartmentalize things. The professional community would not feel comfortable if a chemist regularly prayed over his test tubes but this does not mean that chemists never pray. Just as it is human to be sexual it is also human to be religious, and religion may not necessarily express itself as “an invisible friend” but includes a reverential regard for the numinous and transcendent. Taoism and Buddhism are equally “religious” but do not involve “deities” and secular humanism in the style of Thoreau is also spiritual and religious but avoids reference to some deity. I also pointed out that everyone sleeps and everyone dreams during sleep and dreams are often irrational and phantasmagorical yet the fact the everyone has such dreams each night does not mean that they are somehow irrational and incapable of science or logic or reason. The human personality is complex and includes anger, jealousy, depression and even possibly schizophrenia but all this can be present in a person who is also a brilliant scientist or mathematician. Kurt Godel was quite eccentric and died of starvation from paranoid irrational fear of poisoning yet Godel was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century (and a close personal friend of Einstein.)

William: Freeman Dyson said that Richard Dawkins is foolish to tell young people that they must be atheists to be scientists. Dyson describes himself as a religious person although he does not subscribe to one particular creed. But Dawkins drives good minds away from science because the don’t want to give up their beliefs.

Lair: The question is, how “good” can a mind be that finds it necessary to believe in imaginary friends? It doesn’t seem unreasonable to be suspicious of science produced by people who accept as fact things that are incapable of being proven scientifically.

Alan: Religion and Science are fundamentally different ways of looking at the world and they use absolutely different methods of trying to answer questions about the world. While it is possible to be a religious faithful scientist, to do so one needs to be able to set aside their religious way of thinking when they step into the lab. Some people can do it but I think Dawkins is right to point out that religion and science are oppositional. Religion is about believing in things that cannot be known rationally or empirically based upon authority. Science is about looking at the world critically, as opposed to faithfully, questioning everything you are told by authority, and trusting only what you can see with your eyes and what conforms to reason.

William: Lair, with all due respect, could you share with us how far your studies progressed in physics, mathematics, calculus, differential equations, chemistry? I see that you are smirking but as far as I can see you do not have much to boast about academically or intellectually (any more that I do.)

I am guessing that advanced algebra might give you a problem. But you seem willing to judge the minds of scientists and mathematicians when you yourself are not particularly accomplished in math and science. It is not accurate to dismiss all religion and spirituality as “belief in an invisible friend.”

Lair, you seem to feel that a scientific mind MUST be a good mind and a good mind could not possibly hold some religious belief. And yet the converse is not true, namely, a mind which is good like yours in rejecting a belief in “invisible friends” is not a mind which is gifted in math or physics or academic achievement.

Kurt Gödel was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century and a close friend of Einstein and Kurt Gödel actually attempted to PROVE the existence of God –’s_ontological_proof

Regarding Einstein:
“I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.”

Max Planck (1858-1947)
Planck made many contributions to physics, but is best known for quantum theory, which revolutionized our understanding of the atomic and sub-atomic worlds. In his 1937 lecture “Religion and Naturwissenschaft,” Planck expressed the view that God is everywhere present, and held that “the holiness of the unintelligible Godhead is conveyed by the holiness of symbols.” Atheists, he thought, attach too much importance to what are merely symbols. Planck was a churchwarden from 1920 until his death, and believed in an almighty, all-knowing, beneficent God (though not necessarily a personal one).

Gregor Mendel (1822-1884)
Mendel was the first to lay the mathematical foundations of genetics, in what came to be called “Mendelianism”. He began his research in 1856 (three years before Darwin published his Origin of Species) in the garden of the Monastery in which he was a monk. Mendel was elected Abbot of his Monastery in 1868.

Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
Michael Faraday was the son of a blacksmith who became one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. His work on electricity and magnetism not only revolutionized physics, but led to much of our lifestyles today, which depends on them (including computers and telephone lines and, so, web sites). Faraday was a devoutly Christian member of the Sandemanians, which significantly influenced him and strongly affected the way in which he approached and interpreted nature. Originating from Presbyterians, the Sandemanians rejected the idea of state churches, and tried to go back to a New Testament type of Christianity

Regarding Max Planck

Planck was a devoted and persistent adherent of Christianity from early life to death, but he was very tolerant towards alternative views and religions, and so was discontented with the Nazi church organizations’ demands for unquestioning belief.
The god in which Planck believed was an almighty, all-knowing, benevolent but unintelligible god that permeated everything, manifest through symbols, including physical laws. His view may have been motivated by an opposition like Einstein’s and Schrödinger’s against the positivist view. Planck was interested in truth and a Universe beyond observation, and objected to atheism as an obsession with symbols.

Lair: I ask a question, William. I did not claim to have a “good” mind myself. I said only that it “doesn’t seem unreasonable to be suspicious of science produced by people who accept as fact things that are incapable of being proven scientifically.” You present good examples of scientists who maintained religious beliefs while doing scientific work. Fine. So, yes, scientists can be religious. I will give you that. It doesn’t seem unreasonable, however, to find religious scientists suspect until proven otherwise.

William: Obviously most human beings are by nature very sexual, but if they were to engage in sexual activity in the class room or the laboratory or the library or the office they would probably wind up in prison. Human beings are also by nature spiritual or religious if you prefer. We learn to separate and compartmentalize our urges, instincts, desires, natures. We do one thing on a battle field, and another thing in a laboratory and another thing in a library and yet something else in the bridal suite. surgeon general was something of a fundamentalist Christian, but he put aside his personal beliefs in order to promote sex education and distribution of condoms precisely because his appointment was meant NOT as a bully pulpit to promote his own personal agendas but as a stewardship to serve the best interests of his constituents.

And what are we to say of those who practice surgery and medicine and yet believe in God and pray and attend church. Are their minds too demented for them to be trusted with a scalpel or a drug prescription pad?

Lair: I don’t question your sincerity, William. You argue robustly, and it does not offend me. Yes, we departmentalize our lives every day. I was very suspicious of Dr. Koop when he was appointed for precisely the reasons you mention. He proved to be intellectually “above” his beliefs, and I became a big fan. However, I do not easily accept anyone with strong religious beliefs, no matter the “department”, without being quite watchful. I come from a very devout fundamentalist Christian background – I can quote scripture with the best of them – and I know the “power” of belief and how it can creep into crevices, and so scientists or whoever will have to prove they can “overcome” before I am prepared to accept them carte-blanche

William: Lair, I have been giving a lot of thought to this thread. For the sake of argument let us say that you are no different from 50% of humanity in the sense that you could not think your way out of a paper bag when it comes to mathematics, physics, chemistry, physiology, etc. If that is the case than why oh why would you worry whether Einstein goes to a synagogue on Saturday, or Stephen Hawking takes communion. Since you are not intellectually or academically equipped to evaluate whatever science or math you know they why do you worry whether the scientists or mathematicians who produced such science are atheist or agnostic, or Sufi whirling dervishes? Lair, whatever it is that you do know about math or physics (which presumably is very little) you “know” it in the sense of hear-say. You hear it on the television or you watch a nature or science channel or you read a magazine or worse yet you find it on the internet, and then you just parrot it back without any deep grasp or understanding. Lair, you do not impress me because you are too clever to believe in “invisible friends,” rather you do not impress me because you never say anything impressive or profound or insightful or intellectual. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like you as a person and it does not mean that I never benefit by reading what you post. Now, IF you were to begin writing some mind-boggling ideas that set my mind on fire I really would not care whether you fantasize about Tinker Bell doing things with Peter Pan or any number of other things. The achievements of scientists stand on their own apart from the personal beliefs or doubts of the scientists who make those discoveries. The scientific revolution itself divorces ideas from the thinker in the sense that it is experimentally verifiable.

Lair: I suppose I am just not up to your intellectual level, William. I can live with that. Most of what you write goes right over my head or my eyes glaze over. It does not communicate anything whatsoever to me. It is intellectual blah-blah, meant, I suppose, to show superiority of intellect. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like you as a person, and it does not mean that I never benefit by reading what you post. I have opinions, no matter whether they “impress” you or not. However, I do not live to “impress’, amazingly enough. Scientific achievements do indeed stand on their own. Good thing, because if I knew the facts of the lives of those that achieve the science, i might be appalled, disgusted, or at least less likely to accept their findings.

William: Lair, what I write about each and every day is exactly what I think and how I think. I touch type 80 wpm. I dont do it to impress anyone. I do it as an exercise, like jumping jacks. Personally I feel like an intellectual failure. I look for a few people who are head and shoulders above my level who will have the patience to put up with my slow-witted nature. There are a few people who follow what I write because they feel that I am on a higher level than them and they seek to elevate themselves. I know who those few people are and we correspond privately. I do this because it is my nature, it is in my blood, it is all I know how to do. I have been like this since I was age 10 or 11. My high school class elected me class philosopher and I thought it was some kind of joke or lark at the time. Only years later did I realize WHY they chose me as class philosopher. I did not choose or want to be this way. I was simply born this way. Yes, it is true that I chose to exercise and nurture this nature that I was born with. I had a friend in Beijing China who was doing his Masters degree in English. He was under the gun to write a philosophical paper in English in two weeks. There was no way he could do it. He was not equipped to do that linguistically or intellectually/scholastically. I did a paper off the top of my head in 3 hours, ten pages, as fast as I could type and I could do that because I have thought and rethought the same issues for years. Then we spent some time “dumbing it down” so it did not sound like the writing of a native speaker. They wanted to give him a prize for it but he declined. The things that I post come into my head automatically. If I dont write them down they I forget them, they disappear. Sometimes I actually wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea and have to write it down before I forget it, which means that I even do this stuff in my sleep. There are a few people who are exactly on the same wave-length as I am. We have long discussions and stimulate each other to new realizations. In fact, sometimes we complete each others thoughts and sentences. By the way, some of these people are Hindu, some are Muslim, some are Catholic, some are Jewish, and some are even Atheist or Agnostic. Their religious or spiritual is as irrelevant as their gender, age, skin color, native language, sexual orientation, politics, etc.

Lair: I do know how to respond to what you just wrote, William, except to ask, am I such a bore for you that you would prefer I not respond to your posts? That would be fine with me if that is what you would prefer. I notice that many of your posts receive no response. This one I responded to because it touched one of my “buttons”: what I think of as the silliness of religion. But I can just as soon read them and go “huh” and move on without responding.

William: Lair, I do not worry about the credibility of what physicists and mathematicians do on the basis of their religious beliefs, and I consider myself a dummy, so if most of what I am saying is flying over your head, then EVEN LESS should you worry about whether some theistic scientist is leading you down the path of deception or destruction. You made what I consider to be an erroneous observation, namely that any religious mind must be incapable of mathematics or science. I tried to make you aware of why I find your observation to be erroneous in a firm but cordial manner. The majority of humanity are nit-wits who smoke when they know it causes cancer, abuse intoxicants, engage in dangerous sexual practices and get over their heads in debt. Taking some medicine developed by some orthodox Jew scientist is the least of your worries. I have 1060 friends on my list. About 100 or less say things which impress the hell out of me and that doesnt happen every single day. The other 900 are simply nice folks. I enjoy reading what they have to say. Sometimes, I have some reply that helps or amuses them. Different people read what I write for any number of reasons. Perhaps some of them think I am a raving fool and enjoy a good laugh. I read everything that everyone writes. I try to be compassionate and helpful. Sometimes I just remain silent. Sometime, like in your case today, I feel it is my duty to say what is on my mind. What can I say?

Barbara: ‎”Faith” is an interestingly human condition, whether it is faith in something we can see and touch or faith in something unknown. I have faith that the earth will still be revolving around the sun when I wake up tomorrow. I also have faith that if I continue to put one foot in front of the other, my body will continue to move forward. One day, one or the other of those things may not happen according to the faith that I have, but for now, that faith makes my life easier because I don’t have to spend all my time checking to make sure that either is still true.

Since the “faith” that each of us has is created and maintained for the sole purpose of making our OWN lives easier, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to convince one person to give up his faith because it is wrong according to the other.

Atheism is “faith.” It is the faith that there is no super power over all of us doing anything at all. But, if we were to delve deeper, would we find that all atheists really don’t believe in any super power at all? What about the power of nature, humanness, “cause & effect?” The atheist may not believe in a supernatural “being” ruling the world (which technically I don’t believe in either even though I am NOT atheistic because I don’t believe that I can prove there is no supernatural power ruling everything…) but he might believe that the earth will still be revolving around the sun tomorrow morning and that really IS “FAITH” by the strictest definition of the word. Buddhists believe that all the “power” is inside ourselves…. that we are our own higher powers, so to speak. Is Buddhism not a “faith?”

I read all of the comments here, and I noticed something interesting. Each person was trying to convince the other that his own way of thinking about faith is the right way to think. And that is the Christian way… to try to convert everyone else to the Christian faith. However, when I return to the start of my comment now, I have to say that it is also FUTILE to try to convince others to give up their OWN faiths in order to believe something we believe. Each of us has to figure these things out for ourselves or it just doesn’t work in the way it needs to work for each person — it won’t make life easier and it will then be abandoned by the other as useless.

Some things can be proven; other things can’t be proven. But, I honestly don’t think that Lair is going to be persuaded into believing in Bill’s faith through being berated or having his intelligence (or lack thereof if there actually is such a lack in him) shoved in his face. I am not very good in mathematics (above the level of algebra) but I obtained a degree from the university anyway…. with Ds in Calculus.
I have heard tell that Einstein had his own difficulties with mathematics when he was in school. But, maybe that was merely rumor.

I used to type really fast. Now, I just sound like I am typing quickly to all those who type with two or three fingers. If I type faster than 60 wpm now, I would be amazed! But, it really doesn’t matter in the whole scheme of life.

Life is not a contest as much as some would like to make it so. It is not a race, or maybe I should say, it should not be a race or it is not a race for me. No matter what we believe, we will all end up in the same place at the end of our lives, … , DEAD. So, we may as well enjoy our friends along the way.

As for Dawkins, Dyson, and all the rest, it is MY OPINION and nothing more, that science and faith CAN AND DO exist concurrently in all of us. We can get rid of neither, because faith is a part of the human condition whether it is a faith in the fact that you can prove that there is no supernatural “god” or a faith in something else. I agree with all of the points of view expressed here and I agree with none of them,…, on different points and as far as I am concerned, that is what makes me human, too.

Yehoshua: Most things that we live by and stake our lives on are things we accept not by rigorous proof but by experience and what we consider to be an extremely high probablity of their being true. The vast majority of world religions base themselves on founding events experienced by one person or a few. The outstanding exception to this general rule is the revelation of Sinai. This is the only instance in which a religion makes a claim that an entire nation experienced at least part of the fundamental revelation. Of course Christianity and Islam accepted Sinai and built their own structures over it. The basic revelation was never questioned until Spinoza. And don’t forget that the Jews are not and never have been a credulous people.pretty skeptical, in fact. See the first book of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi’s Kuzari (medieval Spain), or for a contemporary exposition of this argument, Kelemen, Permission to Believe.

Bryan: The claim that Einstein “believed in God” is misleading. Einstein believed in an orderly universe which he referred to as “God,” not in a Christian or Jewish God who was interested in the action of individual people. He was very clear about that.

Speaking as a working scientist, I can state that scientists, in general, rarely discuss their beliefs on religion and don’t introduce these beliefs, should they have them, into their work. It simply doesn’t really come up. This suggests to me that most either don’t believe, don’t care, or, if they do, don’t consider their beliefs relevant to what they are working on. If a scientist were to attempt to introduce “beliefs” into his or her work, that person would run a strong risk of being ejected from the class of working scientists.

Barbara: Bryan’s experience has also been mine in not only science but also business in general. The *discussion* of faith is nearly non-existent and in the rare cases that someone actually brings it up in relation to the work, others become very uncomfortable to the point of separating themselves from the “offending” individual… even with the slightest mention. I have to admit that I also react by pulling away from those who interject the faith issues into the business world. Those ideas seem unduly intrusive and biased in that circumstance.

BUT, I will remark that we are ALL influenced by our faiths… often in ways that we don’t immediately notice. Our morals, how far we are willing to go in any endeavor that threatens other life, what we are willing to say and how we couch those statements about purposes, endeavors, goals, etc. We are all effected in one way or another by the ideas of acceptable “damage” in the process of knowledge or financial gain. And, whether we accept it as such or not, to a huge degree, these “limits” have been defined for us by the “faith” morays of our societies.

For instance, most of us would not consider it acceptable to kill the people who are trying to disprove our own theories in business or science, even if those individuals endeavors are believed by us to be so threatening to our own that we could end up losing financially or others “could” use the results of the offending endeavors to harm others…e.g., gun or chemical manufacture each of which “could” and do cause damages to others later. Why don’t the greatest majority of us we revert to animal instincts when we truly believe that something someone else is doing is going to have results that we truly believe will be harmful? Because, it is also part of our morals not to do so and the process of learning that we aren’t supposed to murder others is always part of our “faith” based learning.

It is instinctual for us to protect ourselves at all cost, but it is a learned belief that we “should not” act on that instinct the way many animals do. And, the reasoning for not behaving instinctively justifies the control against such acts as what is “right” rather than what we may think is necessary to survival. It would be much more natural for humans to be as aggressive as any other aggressive animal, but we are all taught to control those urges and GIVEN faith-based reasons for that control… the faith that as “better people” we gain something that is supposedly greater than what we would have if we did not exert that control.

Regardless of *which* “faith” we credit with teaching each of us this important action, it is indeed faith in something that gives us the idea of greater rewards if we live according to a certain set of “moral” rules.

And, when someone DOES deviate from that set of rules at their basest, EVERYONE generally agrees that the person is wrong or somehow sick… regardless of faith or culture proving that there is a universal idea among humans of what is “right or wrong” on the most basic levels. Anyone who has had children knows that these understandings of “right and wrong” are NOT something the children are born understanding. It is taught, and then the person’s ability to adhere to those “rules” depends on other experiences or “chemistry” in that individual.

The word, “faith” is commonly taken to refer to a certain brand of belief by many people, but technically, that word can and does cover much more ground than merely ONE religion. “Faith” is NOT inheritently the same as “Religion” and neither word is strictly limited to any particular belief in any particular supernatural power or the lack of belief in said power in the strictest sense. Assuming those words always refer in those ways to only ONE set of morays or even more limits to only ONE brand of religion is the way that humans attempt to expand the beliefs of others to match their own in more ways than the simple basics that we all learn to agree to in this world — the “do unto others as we would have them do unto us….”

William: Bryan seems to FAIL to grasp my earlier point that just because no one in the science field seems to express religious feelings is not an indication that they do not have religious feelings. I would venture to guess Bryan that no man or woman whether superior, or subordinate or student behaves towards you in a sexual fasion. Does that mean that those people are not sexual beings? Certainly not. It means that they are professionals who can compartmentalize religious feelings and sexual feelings. I think there is definitely a strong element of prejudice in our society today that a person cannot be spiritual and also scientific. At the point of Obamas election, I was speaking at length to a college studen in Beijing China. He said to me “Well, your President Obama is a lawyer, while our Communist Chinese leaders are SCIENTISTS and everyone knows that scientists are more logical and rational than lawyers.” I tried to explain to him in a polite and gentle way that he is brainwashed by his Communist party and that if his leaders have some piece of paper from some Chinese University which says they are a “scientist” then that means nothing but rather show me in journals actual contributions that your scientific leaders have made to science and mathematics. Different Communist Chinese story: I was helping a graduate student who majored in English near Beijing. Because of the time difference it was 3am for him. He said, “Oh my wife is calling for me to turn off the computer and come to bed.” As a joke I said “Tell her, OK, I know you want to make love so I will be there in a moment.” HE WENT INTO UTTER SHOCK and said “Oh, I would NEVER have such a thought. My only thoughts each and every day are to be a good citizen and Communist and help my society. I never have sexual thoughts.” I told him that he is brainwashed into denying his own nature because I guarantee you that there is not a male on the planet from the Dalai Lama to Pope Benedict to Billy Graham to Jimmy Carter to Chairman Mao who is never visited by a sexual thought or fantasy or desire. By the same token, there are capable scientists and mathematicians who have religious or spiritual sentiments. Obviously the scientific community takes a dim view of someone suddenly spreading a prayer mat on the floor or praying over their test tubes just as they take a dim view of someone suddenly grabbing someone else’s body parts in public. But have no doubt that religious sentiments exist in the human heart, along with sexual sentiments.

As for Lair, he made a ridiculous statement which insinuates that IF I go to a doctor or surgeon I must inquire whether they are an atheist, because if they believe in “invisible friends” like Jesus or Allah or Krishna then they must be incompetent lunatics. I would venture to say that medical practitioners are the only scientists that most of us come into contact with who may have some positive or negative influence on our well being. I personally dont care what Lair believes or does not believe but with regard to this particular statement of his I felt like pouring a bucket of cold water on his head to wake him up. If he is not man enough to take that then so be it. I do not throttle my thoughts simply to win popularity contests and I do not seek association with others who hold back simply to be nice or polite.

Dawn: I agree, the problem isnt with people that believe in a GOD, the problem is with their definition of what god is. we all exist, and therefore whatever facillitated that existence, whatev er governs what is Possible for us, is OUR GOD. the problem is people cannot help but personalize something that is OBVIOUSLY not a person.

GOD is consciousness manifesting, and all things that are manifested. God is Being not a human being, but being itself, it is what it is. I AM means conscious existence

Fenton: Atheists (like me) assert that there is no God.

God is excluded by the scientific method which says ”We will believe in all things for which there is good and sufficient evidence, and in no things for which there is not good and sufficient evidence.”

There is not one scintilla of credible evidence for the existence of God, or for the idea that anything supernatural is necessary to explain the appearances or the knowledge we obtain from Nature.

To say that one does not believe in God is a small quibble away from saying “I do not believe that God Exists”, which is only a micro quibble away from saying “God does not exist.”, which is only a nano-quibble away from saying “There is no God”.

Could a person be a person, and a scientist, and yet not have all of their thinking and all of their beliefs consistent with the scientific method. They would apply that method within the domain of their scientific activities, and yet, as persons in full (and not algorithms that must be 100% internally self-consistent) they would have other activities including worship, prayer, or spiritual communion with Nature, (or in my case, the Tao).

Correct answer (and this IS Fenton here) — Yes.

Only Thought Nazis and Logic Fascists believe that, within a person in full, all activities must follow one set of rules such that all beliefs must be self-consistent as a set (such that each belief is consistent with all the other beliefs, and with the one set of rules).

Jazzy folks know that Alan Watts was right — Reality is Jazzy, and it moves to its own beat, and it’s syncopated, and has riffs, and obligatos, grace notes, and cadenzas, and see, you can learn a lot from music.

A person in full equals not an algorithm.

Reality equals not an algorithm.

A person in full meets reality and the scientific method is PART of that meeting (Fenton/Cosmos) but not ALL of it.

The house of Human Existence has many mansions and they may require different keys to get into. Science has its “Open Sesame!” but the life divine, may require “Abracadabra!”

Mr. Bart used to tell me that you can see different things from a kneeling position. I never followed him there, and never saw those things. But I have seen other things, some of them what Alan Watts and Lao Tzu saw.

This is a paradoxical comment coming from a Dawkins fan, and an atheist, and a Carl Sagan fan. So here’s a little sweetener to help you swallow it — Fenton is always right. Be with that. Abide with me. I wouldn’t kid you about something like this.

Dawn: atheism makes no more sense than any other ism, the absence of god is no more proveable than the existence of GOD.

we exist whatever facillitated that existence is OUR GOD, Natural law and consciousness is our GOD

William: Robert Ornstein wrote a small book called “Multi-Mind” which basically talks about how our brain is an example of how ontology recapitulates phylogeny in the sense that there are structures in the brain that resemble every stage of human evolutionary development from worm-like creatures on up the evolutionary ladder. It is because our “mind” is not a “one” but a “many” a multitude that we can have very different things going on and some of those may be in conflict with others. A brain surgeon may for the briefest moment cast a glance at a nurse’s bosom and a romantic thought flits across the brain for a nanosecond, or he/she will suddenly think about some old Ben Casey episode with the symbols birty, death, male, female, infinity, or if he/she is an atheist the though may pass through their mind “suppose there IS a God” or if he/she is a believer the thought may pass through their mind “suppose there IS NO GOD” and so on and so forth. Fenton seems to often give a good answer. Fenton is fond of systems like Taoism. Taoism, Buddhism, Jainism, and various other isms may not be characterized with Lair’s favorite “invisible friend” criticism. The most telling thread that I found the other day was from a professional mathematician in India. Now few Americans can truly understand what daily life is like in India. But there are so many scientists and mathematicians who are deeply into Vedanta and vegetarianism and a host of other “religious” trappings. There are Muslims in India who celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. The very essence of syncretism (practicing a mixture of religions) and pluralism demonstrates our multi-mind plurality.

Dawn: well “I want to learn to think Like GOD” thats albert einstein, you swallow that.

we cannot KNOW whether GOD exists because all KNowing inherently consists of previous experience and since we cannot have experienced GOD , we cannot say that GOS exists but we also cannot say that GOD does NOT exist. and thats KANT so you and DAwkins can swallow THAT.

we could sit here all day and argue trhe existence of GOD, and it doesnt make a damned bit of difference because neither can be proven.

we exist, whatever source that brought us here, we all came from the same source. and we are all bound by the same laws of natural law, and THAT is therefore OUR god. if you want to believe theres no consciousness behind it, its your choice but dont fool yourself into thinking that your way is any more scientific than believing there IS consciousness behind it. because thats FALSE.

science measures measurable pehnomoneon, GOD is NOT a measurable phenomenon, any more than freedeom or justice, or time. its is all subjective to the person experiencing it.

William: I have come to the conclusion that every educated and rational person must describe themselves as “agnostic.” No one can prove that there is no such thing as a God or a transcendent intelligence. No one can prove that some sort of God exists. Reasonable people realize that they are in the position of agnosticism. But religiosity, reverence, awe, the sense of the numinous, as well as superstition are inherent in human behavior. I have listened to interviews of Communist Chinese students who speak with an almost religious sense of awe about party leaders and the Communist doctrine and then speak of the West as fallen demons. One teenage Chinese party member said that teens in the West only think about sex and drugs and filthy things while she is pure and only things about the welfare of society and the values of the Communist party. It was obvious to me that she was reverent and deferential to her ideology in exactly the same manner that religious people venerate statues or icons or altars or a printed copy of the Bible or Qur’an.

Dawn: and I will agree with you to the bitter end william, its the only intelligent answer possible.

William: If I were to tell you of one scientist or mathematician tell me that he/she saw elephants flying through the clouds you would tell me that surely they are mad and their scientific endeavors are worthless. But if I told you that they were relating a DREAM that they had then you would think nothing unusual. The point is we ALL sleep and we ALL dream even if some of us never remember the dreams and dreams are filled with insane irrational images and fantasies, and yet THAT TOO is part of the human mind.

Lair has confided to me that most of what I write goes right over his head and he assumes it is some kind of “mumbo jumbo” that we intellectuals say from time to time to impress each other.

I did not quote Lair accurately. I paraphrased what I remember him saying. Here is what he actually said: “Most of what you write goes right over my head or my eyes glaze over. It does not communicate anything whatsoever to me. It is intellectual blah-blah, meant, I suppose, to show superiority of intellect. ”

The truth be told, I have very low self-esteem. I feel like an intellectual failure. I am definitely a failure in life in many ways.

I do sense that some people will not understand something I post while others will. I have one friend that I like and their most frequent post is to say “so and so is an @ss hat” … now that is not the way I choose to express myself, but I just overlook it and wait for something which is “common ground” for us to discuss.

Dawn: william, most people dont WANT to understand the world, and most people are too busy to waste their time trying to understand the world, the more you understand the less you have in common with those who dont understand, its the price of understanding.

I understand how you feel, and in fact, I feel the same. you thought I was talking crap the first time I posted in your thread too, but its just because we both have different means of garnerring understanding, and unless we have knowledge of the same sources theres going to be an element of confusionm present.

as KANT says nothing can be perceived without some prior knowledge to make it perceivable to the perceiver. Its ok, you make sense to me.


Disease Prevention

January 6, 2011

Very few people are aware that Mohandas Gandhi was engaged to his wife Kasturbai at the age of 6. Fewer still are aware that Kasturbai was the THIRD child engaged to Gandhi and that the first two had died (I think of cholera) since child mortality was very high in the 19th century. Of course it was the parents who arranged the wedding. Gandhi writes in his autobiography that all he understood was that he would receive new clothes, there would be good things to eat, and he would have a new playmate. The girl would live with the grooms parents. Only when he was age 11 or 12 did his uncle explain to him that he must begin to sleep with his wife. Gandhi always wondered who had explained things to Kasturbai but he never had the temerity to ask.

The beauty of milk maid was celebrated in medieval song because the milk maids would contract cow pox and become immune to small pox, so milk maids had beautiful unblemished faces.

Jonas Salk was so noble to place the polio vaccine in public domain. Salk could have make it proprietary and become very wealthy.

Speaking of the eradication of disease: The Carter Center has predicted that guinea worm disease will be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated and the first disease to be eradicated through behavior change, without the use of vaccines or a cure. There is no animal or environmental reservoir of D. medinensis and thus the parasite must pass through humans each year to survive.

I think that 20 years ago there were something like 50,000 cases a year and that has been reduced to 3,500. Regions at war present the greatest obstacle right now to pursuing complete eradication.

Here is an example of the problem of “forgetting” with regard to trichinosis. Also I had no idea that eating bear meat was a source of infection. Nor did I realize that rats may be part of the cycle. I once ordered a meal in a nice restaurant in Chinatown not realizing that they would bring raw pork to the table, slice it thinly and drop it for a minute or two in some water which was steaming hot but not boiling. I refused to eat it. I think someone would have to be out of their mind or simply ignorant to take a risk like that. Also, I used to go to a Spanish fast food restaurant in Brooklyn and noticed that they would place raw pork and chicken on the counter, cut it, wipe the counter and then put frozen papaya on the same counter to make a milk shake!

Excerpt: The disappearance of the pathogen from domestic pigs has led to a relaxing of legislation and control efforts of veterinary public health systems. It has since been thought of as a reemerging zoonosis supplemented by the increased distribution of meat products, political changes, a changing climate, and increasing sylvatic transmission.
It is also important to keep in mind that major socio-political changes can produce conditions that favor the resurgence of Trichinella infections in swine and, consequently, humans. For instance, “the overthrow of the social and political structures in the 1990s” in Romania led to an increase in the incidence rate of trichinosis. There is also a high incidence of trichinosis among refugees from Southeast Asia. China reports approximately 10,000 cases every year and is therefore the country with the highest numbers of cases. In China, between 1964-1998 over 20,000 people were infected with Trichinosis and over 200 people died

I had never thought about that! I is strange how we will fret over the extinction of a certain kind of frog or bird or fish but no one worries about the extinction of the guinea worm. I am not saying that anyone SHOULD worry or mourn the loss, but it does represent the extinction of a species.

I suppose HIV and other STD infections could be eradicated merely by behavior change and without the use of medications (as was mentioned regarding guinea worm eradication.) But it seems next to impossible for all humans to control their sexual behavior even when they know the dangers involved. I have one friend in his 40s who met up with a woman who actually advertised in Craigslist and was quite explicit regarding her interests (he sent me the advertisement). I asked him if he used protection and he said that he did five out of the six times. I told him that 5 out of six is not enough it must be six out of six, 100%, to be effective. After several weeks of getting what she wanted she confided to him that she had herpes. He was distressed and fearful that perhaps he would contract it. I suggested to him that quite possibly she is simply saying that to get rid of him now that he bores her. Why would she bother to tell him at all unless she wanted to scare him away? Or perhaps it gave her sadistic pleasure to instill fear in him. I have an online friend in Singapore, in his 20s, who had the exact same experience, namely being seduced by an older woman and only afterwards did she tell him she has herpes. He spent weeks in agony of apprehension and actually at one point said to me that he felt suicidal. I read up on herpes and even though it is no picnic it is something that people can live with and not a serious enough affliction to warrant suicide. They say STD was at an all-time low until “the pill” became available and people no longer depended upon condoms. One surprising STD which is a concern to health workers is tuberculosis because it is found in people with compromised immune systems may be spread airborn by having ones face close to the face of an infected person.

Consider how hard it is to get people to give up tobacco or alcohol (or never start using them in the first place.) I was a heavy user of both until 3 years ago. Now I never miss them, but if I started tomorrow I know I would go right back to being addicted.

For that matter, the known health risks of obesity, high cholesterol and lack of cardiovascular exercise are not sufficient to persuade people to watch their diets. Same with the risks of diabetes.


Nothing seems more natural than to take a toddler on a stroll in a wooded area and allow them to pick up sticks or twigs and perhaps even put them in their mouths (when you are not watching.) Raccoons are present even in urban areas. Raccoons carry a parasite in their feces for which there is no known cure and which enters the brain and destroys it. There was a case of a child who died from such an infection contracted simply by a walk in a wooded area and putting an infected twig in the mouth.

Chosing the time and manner of ones death

January 3, 2011

Melissa: What I am about to say I say with total seriousness. I believe that each person should have the right to choose the time and manner of their death. I think that physician assisted death should be legalized not simply for those who are mortally ill but also for those who have simply grown tired of life. Stop and consider the annual statistics on suicide. I have even read that as many as 300 physicians commit suicide each year using drugs which only physicians have access to and using the skill and knowledge which only a physician possesses. Every successful suicide by any person is a tragic loss of organs which might be used for transplants for people who have not tired of living. Every suicide effort which is a botched failure often results in a person who is now severely impaired. If there were a protocol for people to apply for physician assisted death and submit to examinations and counseling then doubtless many would be dissuaded from their desires while others would persist in their request to die. Those who persisted in their request would die with some measure of dignity rather than under a dark social stigma and they might even feel a kind of generosity in donating organs for the use of others. It is difficult to criminalize suicide because even as ancients like Cicero point out, every cliff and pond and tree provides us with an escape route from this existence. I believe there are 6 or seven suicides mentioned in the Bible and yet there is no explicit statement regarding the moral nature of the action.

Mr. Koenig asks a perfectly reasonable question asking what were the plans for the grandparents prior to these political changes. Obviously if someone has great wealth then they can pay out of pocket for whatever medications or treatments are necessary to prolong life. I was actually in the billing office of Columbia Presbyterian and saw a European take out a credit card and pay a $70,000 bill. For those of us who are poor then we have no “plans” except to hope for subsidized health care of some sort. The extremely wealthy do not have “plans” but rather simply pay for whatever is necessary. The extremely poor do not have “plans” but either hope for some socialized subsidy or else simply die of their illnesses. And there are some who for whatever reason wrongly or rightly choose the time and manner of their death by whatever means they find available.

I will add as an afterthought that I recently joined a group which discusses the writings of Ayn Rand. I do not think I shall ever be a great Ayn Rand fan in the sense of embracing all of her principles and guiding my life by them. But Rand was an impressive writer who made a lasting mark upon society and every generation of young people has about 250,000 who rediscover Rand’s writings. When I search for Rand’s thoughts on physician assisted death I find that she supports the notion. I also notice some Republican Tea Party enthusiasts who employ Rand’s Objectivist philosophy as part of their platform. I see physician assisted death as a perfectly Republican and conservative alternative to welfare cradle to grave health care systems. I also believe there are convicts who would chose physician assisted death by sodium barbitol over life in prison without parole.


December 31, 2010

I know of several males who were circumcised in adulthood. One was a non-religious person who had it done in the army primarily because of the teasing he received from the other soldiers who were circumcised. Most boys in the 1950s were circumcised in the hospital for reasons of hygiene rather than religious reasons. He did not feel that there was any lose of pleasure experience. Another male married a Jewish woman and had a religious circumcision. He exclaimed that his pleasure was enhanced but I am convinced that his experience was psychosomatic in origin. I myself was circumcised in the hospital. At age 10 I was in the hospital for hernia surgery. I saw the boy in the room next to me who was NOT circumcised and I became quite alarmed that he must have been injured. The nurse explained to me that he was not injured but simply uncircumcised. That was the first time in my life that I became aware of the difference. I do remember that the Russian Orthodox Christians were adamant about leaving their boys uncircumcised. I did sense a high degree of anti-Semitic sentiment among Russian Orthodox. I know one woman who has had several partners one of which was uncircumcised and she commented that she preferred circumcision simply because it seems more sanitary to her. Also, studies show that incidence of certain types of cervical cancer is lower among women who have only circumcised partners. Uncircumcision does seem to be a more likely vehicle for transmission of virus and bacteria.

Mary Shelly and Frankensteins Monster

November 23, 2010

One thing I read once regarding Mary Shelly’s story which seared into my mind is that when the “monster” first peered into the window of a hut and saw the humans, he was charmed by them and wanted to benefit them in some way. It was only when they violently persecuted him that he turned hostile. I sometimes think I see a bit of that monster in each of us; we want to love and be loved but we are treated like monsters and so, quite naturally, we often become monsters. But perhaps my memory has failed me once again, so I should google on SparkNotes to refresh my understanding (oh, how low one can sink in old age!)

I became curious and went to SparkNotes to find one passage which substantiates something of what I remember about the monster wanting to love and help : The monster’s eloquent narration of events (as provided by Victor) reveals his remarkable sensitivity and benevolence. He assists a group of poor peasants and saves a girl from drowning, but because of his outward appearance, he is rewarded only with beatings and disgust. Torn between vengefulness and compassion, the monster ends up lonely and tormented by remorse. Even the death of his creator-turned-would-be-destroyer offers only bittersweet relief: joy because Victor has caused him so much suffering, sadness because Victor is the only person with whom he has had any sort of relationship.

Like the monster, I approach with affection to help the villagers, but I can only help in my monster fashion, with lateral thinking, but Heidi the villager, for whom I feel kindly, is horrified by my alien monster appearance and looks for a torch and a pitchfork… Mary Shelly’s story can never take a different direction… Prometheus is the homo sapens development of philosophy, then technology, the industrial revolution, and finally nuclear energy and genetic engineering, those things which escape from Pandora’s box (or jar) and can never by shoved back in. The the real monster is the renaissance and the industrial revolution. The persecuted monster is the Neanderthal, the aboriginal, who lived for thousands of years in harmony with nature, perhaps a life of only 30 or 40 years but a life filled with meaning, a hearty robust life with no need of medicine or healthcare because natural selection kept the species robust, no need for private property, an alien concept. But now, even the sickliest reproduce, and become increasingly dependent upon antibiotics while all the microbes, virus,fungi develop resistant strains. We live longer and longer, almost to 100 years, but our society worships youth and what is new and different. So our final years are empty and bitter and we are useless, extraneous. The only way we can survive is to grasp at wealth to support us in our declining years. We destroy the environment, we destroy ourselves by becoming that ghoul in Dorian Grey’s picture. We destroy each other with weapons of mass destruction pitted against terrorism. So, you see, for me to give Carlo that second sentence, I must make up a fairy tale, a lie. A happy-ever-after-ness which can never be. But I shall give this some more thought. Fairy-tales have their place and serve a purpose.

Count It All Joy

November 7, 2010

@Melissa: I am so sorry for all your trials. My poor mother-in-law must get regular eyelid injections to keep them from drooping shut. I sent her once to a surgical specialist but she elected not to go that route. I am told there is some Jewish prayer to be said after we complete our bodily functions. This sounds silly but when one lives around people with kidney failure or other impairments one realizes what a miracle every mundane thing is; to sleep, to waken refreshed; to have appetite; to feel satiety, to taste and sense fragrance, to hear and see, to have clarity of memory and the curiosity to keep learning new things and to try and see things from different perspectives. James said something about “I count it all joy” but sometimes this simplest mathematical task can be illusive.

Sudden Hearing Loss

November 4, 2010

I permanently lost half of my hearing in one ear from the improper use of firearms. I had to purchase a $2000 hearing aid. I have constant tinnitus in that ear which means that 24/7 there is a siren going off in my head. I must take a tranquilizer and a sleeping pill to get a good sleep. My uncle LITERALLY got his head blown off (and of course died instantly) on one 4th of July in the 1960s. Getting back to hearing loss, we have an entire generation of young people who will be hearing impaired because of rock concerts and those little phones that insert in the ear. If you want to be SAVE then get a good HEAD SET. If you are in a noisy subway and increase the volume of your mp3 then you are still experiencing noise level which will cause permanent hearing loss. Hearing loss occurs in AN INSTANT and is irreversible.

I too carry earplugs with me at all times in NYC and have done so for years. My father was in WWII in Normandy etc for 5 years. He said at the end of the day his head would hurt from all the gunfire. He was 4th division 12th Infantry. He visited an Army post in the 1980s and was shocked to see that all the soldiers carried ear plugs. When I was a child in the 1950s no one ever saw a crash helmet except perhaps for racing drivers. I only once saw a seatbelt in an M.D.’s Korvette and we were told that this is because the Korvette is a race car. Now I see skateboarders wearing crash helmets and even toddlers on tricycles wearing helmets. Helmets, ear plugs, safety glasses, double durex condoms…. these are all good ideas which are recent in vintage.

Heterosexual Spread of HIV Virus

October 31, 2010


Regarding the epidemiology chapter in ‘The Tipping Point’, I think Gladwell gets it wrong. He mentions some guy in Baltimore who was supposedly responsible for giving HIV to over a hundred young women through garden variety heterosexual intercourse. I don’t think this is possible. There had to be some IV drug use involved, or something. Perhaps the interviewers were not asking the right, or detailed enough, questions. The New York City health department is very detailed in their pursuit of HIV positive people to determine who needed to be contacted for medical follow up. They discovered way back in the late 1980s that there was almost always some secondary risk behavior involved in heterosexual transmission. This was about the time that the Atlantic did a cover story claiming that AIDS was transmitted by mosquitos.

William: @James: You raise an interesting issue. I went to look at your profile for indications of religious affiliation but found none. As I look at your photo I see a slight resemblance between you and James Dobson of “Focus on the Family” fame (but of course coincidental resemblance means nothing.)

In Google I find such sites as these which assure us that normal heterosexual transmission of HIV is rare or next to impossible

Excerpt: AIDS is a very serious disease — for homosexuals, drug users, and receptive partners in anal sex from an AIDS-infected partner. The likelihood of AIDS transmission in normal vaginal intercourse when avoiding partners that are bisexual or drug users, is so remote, that you are probably more likely to be struck by lighting or be killed in a car accident on your way to a swing club. Once you make it to the swing club your much safer than in the car.

AIDS is a very weak virus and must be spread by blood-to-blood or semen-to-blood contact. Anal intercourse is the only likely way of transmission in heterosexual relations, although transfer from a male to a female can occur vaginally. Of course, first the male must be an AIDS carrier so women should be selective to be confident that the man is not bisexual or a drug user. The transfer of AIDS from a woman to a man is very rare since the penis would have to be either infected with an open sore or tissue torn by extreme roughness in intercourse. Heterosexual men are acting as a block to the spreading of AIDS which is why the CDC estimate of future AIDS cases has plummeted from 25 million to about 1 million.

(end of excerpt)

You will notice that the above link is a “Christian” site.

Here is a link from a more secular site which seems to indicate that HIV is easily spread by normal heterosexual intercourse

Excerpt: The pandemic continues its relentless spread—about 14 000 people are infected each day. This article describes the impact on health and the economic and social impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in poor countries, discusses the many factors that promote the heterosexual transmission of HIV, highlights successes around the world in preventing infection, and outlines some of the challenges for the future.
(end of excerpt)

In the 1980s my office was directly across the street from a Puerto Rican woman who had two young boys. She was rather sexually active. I often worked nights and weekends. I would look up from my work and out the window and notice her boy friend on the balcony. He was the one who transmitted HIV to her. She died of full blown AIDS. She actually worked for a while in our factory. We helped one of her sons for years after her death. The man who infected her asked for forgiveness. Of course I never cross examined the woman to inquire if she engaged in “unnatural” sexual acts.

With all due respect, I see the first “Christian” link as a form of propaganda designed to slander homosexuals. To be blunt, many more traditional religions such as Greek Orthodoxy see people like Dobson and Graham and Osteen, et al. , as demonic instruments of Satan. Satan is very clever as you may have observed from Gospel passages which describe how Satan tempted Jesus with BIBLICAL VERSES. Yet, what better way to lull all of humanity into spiritual carelessness than by telling them that all of their sins are magically forgiven and they have the eternal security of salvation, once saved – always saved (sometimes abbreviated as O.S.A.S.).

Sleep Apnea and CPAP

October 28, 2010

I forgot to mention that my FB friend, who works for the apnea org., has a photo of a blimp sized man which is actually an illustration of a character in one of Dickens’s novels which is the first mention of sleep apnea in literature. Also Pres. Taft weighed 300 lbs while he was in his one term. Taft would literally fall asleep during meetings and no one mentioned it in the press or gave it a second thought. Once Taft left office he lost 70 lbs and was able to become active in hiking. Taft’s lifelong ambition was NOT to be president but rather to sit on the Supreme Court. Taft went to Rome to purchase land in the Philippines and sell it to Filipinos at a reasonable price. Taft was nominated for Supreme Court but declined until he could finish his efforts on behalf of the Filipinos. Later Taft DID become a Supreme Court Justice and served
with distinction. At least, this is what I can recall from memory. Forgive me for any errors or omissions.

What is God’s Plan?

June 15, 2010

YOU want ME to TELL you what conclusions to draw? I am rather surprised Sam. A child would sincerely ask what to think of such things. But most who participate in such “threads” are mature, educated adults who draw their own conclusions. Therefore I find “Tell us!” a somewhat disingenuous response. But since you have throw down the gauntlet: I have had fundamentalists tell me that the Earth cannot be more than 6,000 years old. One pastor said that God merely CREATED dinosaur fossils (not dinosaurs but merely the FOSSIL REMAINS) to test the faithful (i.e. those who are truly faithful will not be tricked into believe that the Earth is older than 6,000 years.) If we do accept the findings of archeologists, mathematical physicists, geneticists et al then we must somehow concede that “the way things were” for millions of years MUST somehow be part of God’s plan if there is such a thing as a God and if such a supreme being does have a “plan.” Consider the aboriginals who survived for countless thousands of years in total harmony with the ecosystem. They did not have concerns about health care because the process of natural selection insured that those who survived were robust. Perhaps they only lived 40 or 50 years, but those years were filled with quality, meaning and purpose in a way that we moderns will never understand. If the Neanderthals had speech than were they not “human,” did they not have “souls” and were they not in conformity with “God’s plan.”