Uncommon Sense

April 10, 2019

Other Ways of Knowing?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:11 am
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As I read I am often presented with the dichotomy of the material and the spiritual, of the head and the heart.

“There is a wisdom of the head and a wisdom of the heart.”
Charles Dickens

And it appears to me that this is a consequence of some simple physiological facts. The sense through which we extract the most information is our vision. This gives us the impression that “we” (homunculus, whoever is driving this vehicle, whatever) reside inside of our heads. This illusion is very strong and quite understandable. Through our vision we may attend the entire world, from near to far and small to large in quiet contemplation. This ability does not seem to be a source of passion, rather “cold” intellect.

When we experience strong emotion, for whatever reason, it tends to affect our torsos in the form of restricted breathing or the reverse, panting, or a feeling of being punched in the stomach, generally accompanied by rapid heart beats. This creates the illusion that something else resides in our torsos. Since breathing is usually quiet, as is our heartbeat, they go unnoticed until their rates are jacked up to high rates and then we can hear them, internally.

Experience in killing animals and other humans points out the importance of the heart and lungs. Break or have a finger cut off and you will survive. Take a spear thrust in a lung and you will die, slowly. Take a spear thrust in the heart and you will die quickly. A hierarchy is therefore created as to which sources of the sounds of our life are most important: life’s blood, the breath of life, etc.

Is this the source of the idea of spirituality? Does anything qualifying as spirituality even exist? What is it really? As much as I love Joe Campbell’s writing on this topic I am still wondering whether spirituality is just an illusion we have become comfortable with, much as a number of philosophers now argue that conscious thoughts are illusions, possibly even consciousness as a whole being an illusion.

That spirituality is tied to strong emotions is no surprise. Using human passion as a lever to control people’s behavior also seems a workable approach for religions. Much of my religion’s tradition was wrapped in the words and imagery of strong emotion (Jesus loves you, the Passion, Brides of Christ, etc.).

Most religions diminish the role of the “head” and emphasize the role of the “heart” (or chakras, or stomach, or . . .). This war between the head and the heart rumbles on today in discussions between religious apologists and “secularists.”

Can this discussion be resolved? I suspect not soon, but it has clearly taken a modern twist, begun I think by William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience) and continued by the likes of Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell, et. al.). These worthies have been applying the tools of science, especially those of biological evolution, to explain the human experience of religion (with much resistance without and within the academic community). Will any of that discussion affect ordinary folks like you and me? That remains to be seen. Possible the rise in the numbers of Americans no longer claiming association with an organized religion (the “Nones”) is a sign, maybe it is not. Please note that an organized religion is not a requirement for having religious experiences. People had these things before organized religions existed and will likely have them after. Understanding their sources is therefore important.



May 27, 2018

A Spiritual Sunday Message About Ghostiality

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:44 am
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I keep reading writings of scholarly people that mention spirituality as if it were a real thing. The term, spirituality, isn’t well defined and the attempts I have seen to define it so that there is some actual evidence that it exists makes it sound like high school sports team spirit. Any time a clear definition can’t be made, I know we are dealing with something that is more subjective than objective.

I grew up going to church and two terms that were interchangeable, at least in my mind, were “ghost” and “spirit,” as in the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. I remember praying to “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

What if we switched the root in the word spirituality from spirit to ghost in these discussions? People would end up saying things like “I am very ghostial.” and “I was moved by the Holy Ghost.” This might get people to examine what they are really saying.

And as far as the supernatural goes, we would be arguing about whether ghostiality were real or whether there was evidence for ghostiality. Still, to be supernatural is to be outside of nature, which is … what? My best guess at a definition is a being or event that does not conform to the pattern of behaviors we observe in ordinary natural phenomena, so we are not talking about a place that is outside of nature but a behavior. For example, while air can support a being’s weight, it is only when it has wings that enable flight, so a hovering ghost would not obey the laws of flight and therefore would be supernatural. There is a TV show called, I believe, Ghost Hunters. Have they found one yet, or have they had episode after episode of near misses? Hmmm. I suspect the latter.

Every attempt to pin down a supernatural event has met with failure. I have observed some very spooky things in my life, but before I would go so far as to rule something as supernatural, I would have to eliminate all of the other natural possibilities. I have a friend who claims to have seen fairies in a garden, but then she is often stoned and hummingbirds flying quickly nearby might be mistaken for a fairy when one is inebriated. To pin down any case claimed to be “supernatural,” one would likewise have to eliminate all of the natural possibilities. For example, religious relics are notorious for being a fount of miracles: wooden statues weeping, stone statues showing the stigmata, etc. Religious people are also known to be gullible and con men have been shown to perpetrate hoaxes by the hundreds. For example, more than a few statues have been built with piping inside to allow for the flow of fluids. As another example, in Israel there is a place where you can bathe in the Jordan River, right where Jesus was baptized. Actually there are at least three such places. One of them is very popular with tourists as it is close to highway access and has government signs directing the traffic. That one is the farthest from where scripture says it happened. This, of course, results in many Christians, home from vacation, claiming that when they bathed in that water, they experienced something of the order of a spiritual experience, being such a holy place, don’t you know. (Most of these fibs or mistaken interpretations stem from wanting to acquire “street cred” in a religious community, in my opinion.)

So, the supernatural could be a possibility when, as Sherlock Holmes said so often “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” It should be the last in line of possible explanations. Theists, however, insist that supernatural causes be first in line any time something unusual happens. This has been largely self-defeating of late because if science continues to offer perfectly natural explanations (which has happened over and over and over), the refuted supernatural cause invoked becomes more and more diminished (and the believers appear more and more deluded). But, hey, it worked like a charm when we were mostly uneducated peasants and serfs.

Myself, when I am feeling spiritual, er, ghostial, I lay down for a minute until the feeling passes.


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