Thursday, December 27, 2018


The pretence has been that the only way to "do" religion, particularly institutional religion, has been to rival science by being rational and precedent-based.  One pretends that arriving at "faith" this way is equivalent to the secular scientific truth achieved by experiment and evidence.  Philosophy (which pretends not to be religion) is treated as logic and insight, the same as religion.  This is an Enlightenment-related idea that has made argumentative atheism possible.  All the snarky little bits about whether religion can be infallible or what is the true nature of "God" are irrelevant.

But most people can't think of an alternative and can't critique the alternative they choose.  There are three ways to go wrong that are off the top of my head -- that is, unexplored.

1.  The first is that since Rousseau has equated the original innocence of Adam and Eve with all living-frames that are not influenced by Western thought (like primitive tribes), all people who refuse to grow up (whatever that is -- full conformity, maybe), and a lot of "uneducated" people  -- given those things, it is possible for people to go to their basic innocent child-like selves and this is a good thing.  The innocent uncontaminated noble indigenous person is naturally good.

2.  The second is that since all this science and civilization stuff is secular but governed by science (which is an assumed, made-up idea). then religion must be supernatural, of another world.  A person can feel that magic while here and will ascend to a better place when dead.  Maybe you're cold, hungry and burned at the stake on this planet, but in some other place you either will be fed or not need food and all will be repaid.

3.  The third is lifting up human emotions like love and compassion into a reified concept that can change the world through good will or attachment, no matter how impractical or ungoverned it is.

My idea of "felt meaning" comes perilously close to that, so it's necessary to learn how the thought of the body is guided by the rational "fact" based approach.  Neither approach is faultless when alone but when properly applied WITH each other can be powerful and change-making.

For instance, psychologists have been very busy and ingenious in devising experiments about the gaps and fallacies in our understanding of our own minds, how they work and when they lead us astray.  They investigate everything from the fantasy limbs that plague us with pain after amputation by convincing the brain for an interval that the limb is back, using mirrors, to common illusions and logic jumps too trivial for usual attention.

More than that, our technology lets us look into the molecules of our flesh and cells where we have been startled again and again.  For instance, the huge surprise of the existence of individual perceiving cells in contrast to organs of perception like ears, noses and tongues.  Most people still think there are only five obvious senses and possible a magic sixth one.  The idea of as many as one hundred specialized cells, distributed through brain tissues rather than operating through a hole in the head with an "extension cord" to the organizing centers of decision, action and memory.  We still don't know how they work.

Challenging new ideas about how cells of perception work, whether they are perceiving an abyss or an ice cream cone.

"Perception as direct perception. Cognitive theories of perception assume there is a poverty of stimulus. This (with reference to perception) is the claim that sensations are, by themselves, unable to provide a unique description of the world. Sensations require 'enriching', which is the role of the mental model."

"Perception is the process which people are aware of objects and events in the external world. Perception occurs in five stages: stimulation, organization, interpretation-evaluation, memory and recall."

Because perception is the basis of thought and thought is physical reaction in the five different stages in the quote above, what one thinks actually changes the brain, becomes memorialized and conserved.  This gives us a great reluctance to change and an easy reversion to previous conviction.

When the research on split brains was conducted by masking off one side from the other and presenting something, it was apparent that one side was seeing and describing conventionally but the other was having to invent some reason for what they said they saw, a story that accounted for their idea that was not real.  Clearly, this is the way some religions are, a story to account for something unaccountable.  The rationalization was quite real, but its content was not.

"Felt meaning" is another category but so far needs more study to account for it.  Part of it is that we have physical reactions -- burning stomach, headache, muscle spasms -- that are quite real but reacting to something unidentified like hating school or fearing the city.  Another related phenomenon is memory vignettes that are inaccessible to our minds until prompted, called up by a cue.  But they can be falsified.  One of the presumptions of therapy is that it can figure out what is the basic and verifiable reason for a mental or physical reaction that seems unjustified.

What I'm "after" in terms of "felt meaning" is how to access the subconscious in terms of the transcendent.  Why do we sometimes feel this ineffable flooding of bliss?  Is it the same if an electric pulse to the temples or the ingestion of certain molecules can bring it on?  If certain kinds of meditation or chanting or ordeal can make it come, is it just a surge of serotonin, just as certain drugs can make us love everyone or blossom with motherly care?  If the physical basis for spirituality means we can just take a pill to see angels, is "religion" as proposed by institutions based on anything at all?  Is the Pope just whistling in the dark?  Do religion-based ideas like justice and compassion take primacy and dominion over order and control, as in the rule of law?  Does this mean the ideas are more real than institutions?

Most of this is too much for an old lady in a back bedroom who can't even figure out how to get the viruses out of her hard drive.  

No comments: