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Keeping It All in Mind

David Hume
***

Dr David, Editor / Publisher

Seeing the whole picture, systems analysis, a holistic perspective, is our modern ideal. But way back in the 1700s the English philosopher, David Hume, already showed that if we don't severely limit, the extent of our inquiry, then we can know nothing about the object of our inquiry. Disconcertingly, we have to do some sort of intellectual violence to the things we are examining, to take them out of their full context, to "understand" them.

Similarly, if we don't define our terms, somewhat limit the full extent of their meanings, then we can't talk about anything. We compose poetry and tell jokes by using the multiple meanings of a word. Shakespeare adorned his text and often drove his plots with such word play. But rational discourse requires precision and accord.

Let's try.

By "religion" I do not mean your bad childhood experience having to sit through church services or practice for your bar mitzvah. People, who believe that if we just got rid of religion, we would inaugurate a rational utopia, are both ignorant regarding the function of the religious impulse and strangely unacquainted with human nature.


Richard Dawkins
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Anti-religious types, like Richard Dawkins, set up straw-men. They pick out the weakest points of organized religions, their fables, their intolerance, having to sit through church services, and argue against these.

Religions, from the Latin "re-bind," are ideas to which we are bound, faiths. And bound to them we are. You can take the person out of the religion, but you can't take the religion out of the person. Even if you discredit orthodox religions, the religious impulse lives on in you.

Today many are bound to their politics as if it were a religion, beyond question or even dialogue: "If you don't believe like I do about [fill in the blank], then you are evil and deserve to be destroyed, or at least to have your life ruined."

Thomas Friedman
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For example, with the Democrats very worried about next year's midterm elections, only now is anyone in the party daring to voice the obvious truth that the party has gone too far left. Just this week, the NY Times' Tom Friedman complained on CNN's Anderson Cooper that after George Floyd:

"[The public was] really open for a both-ends solution -- both better policing and more policing in neighborhoods that are really suffering from terrible gun violence. And what did the progressives offer first? Defund the police and delegitimize police. What a wasted moment. The country was ready for a both-ends civil rights movement, and it was squandered."

You may not agree, but you shouldn't try to cancel Tom Friedman for saying so. Canceling heretics, going to war against people who believe different things than you do is what the power base of orthodox religions did and do.

Science is at a pole opposite religion. Science is opposed to religion, but not in the sense of one or the other, not in an either/or proposition. They are both part of that elusive holistic perspective. Science is another human impulse, another way we look at our world, another philosophy we use to make sense of our experience.

Google "chomsky reason limits" and you will see many videos (some of them quite brief) of that eminent scientist discussing the limits of scientific understanding. Noam Chomsky (who is my source for David Hume's philosophy - see above) says our brains are just not suited for knowing the really interesting things about existence.


Noam Chomsky
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Science, like politics, is also defended with religious zeal by many, including those who would blush to consider themselves religious. Science is another thing with which we try to fill the "god-shaped hole" in our culture.

Somewhat paradoxically perhaps, science, from the Latin "knowledge," is a process of doubt and questioning. "Question the Science" is a more scientific motto than is "Follow the Science." Religions have followers. "Follow the Science" is a bit oxymoronic, like "jumbo shrimp" or "military intelligence." Religion prohibits doubt; science requires it.

You have to be a complete outsider to believe that politics, medicine, the military or government as a whole are scientific, realms of facts. You have to be a non-scientist to believe that science is something etched in stone. (See The Nature of Scientific Revolutions. qqq ) If you haven't questioned the objectivity of institutions, especially where there is money involved, you aren't paying attention.

The way I am defining my terms then, atheism, as a belief, is a religion and agnosticism, as questioning and doubt, is science. Certainly many atheists feel very religious, passionately certain, about their non-belief, wanting to convert others to it.

Atheists believe in Materialism, the discredited, formerly scientific notion that nothing but matter exists. This despite the fact that we know that non-material fields of energy exist, gravity and electromagnetism, for example. We even know that the non-material waves of radio, TV and cellphones are intelligent, full of information.

The mind is another big problem for Materialists. "The Hard Problem," as they refer to it, is how consciousness arouse from dumb matter. So difficult is this conundrum that scientists have proposed that mind, in fact, did not arise from unconscious matter. Panpsychism, posits that mind is a universal force, existing everywhere, like gravity or electromagnetism. With this the Hard Problem becomes a lot less hard. It is a much lower hurdle to ask how this crude, undirected, universal mind stuff somehow became organized into our elegant, sophisticated consciousness.

But really, how difficult is it to convert Panpsychism's "universal mind" stuff to religion's "Universal Mind"? Why does this universal mind stuff have to be dumb, unorganized, not self-aware? Once we begin to consider a mind that is universal, isn't it plausible to think that that universal mind might be considering us?


Stephen Hawking
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Still, science also has its religious impulse. The religion of science is to not believe in God. Those of you who dismiss God lightly would do well to consider that Stephen Hawking and many other great physicist wrestle(d) with the overwhelming evidence that the universe appears to have been designed. Even the world's most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, on page one of The Blind Watchmaker qqq, offers his now-famous definition of life science, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." The matter was and is far from decided.

It's not all or nothing, black or white, science or religion. We get a lot of points for being able to entertain opposites, occasionally arriving at some sort of synthesis. The larger whole, the bigger picture, as Hume and Chomsky attest, is always beyond our understanding. But I have faith, that, in some grand, inhuman way, it does exist.

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Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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