Wednesday, January 31, 2018
CNN recently had an article about whether Star Wars was related to religious ideas:
The article had a few good comments about the ideas in Star Wars that come from actual religious traditions. There is no question that a lot of people think of the Jedi in the movie as a legitimate religion and take it very seriously.
But it is worth remembering that these are fictional movies. In the movies, the supernatural "Force" is shown to be something that at least some individuals can manipulate. In that way, the Force is not supernatural in the Star Wars universe, since it is part of that natural system. Since people can actually make something happen because of it, there is objective evidence that it exists. With human religions in the real world, there is no objective proof that religion actually works. So believing in the Force in a universe in which there is evidence that it works is considerably different from believing in a religion without evidence. Of course, there isn't any evidence that the Force works in the real world, since the movies are fictional.
As the article points out, the Star Wars philosophy owes a lot to Asian religions like Taoism. It is much different from the European and Middle Eastern traditions in the major religions of Christianity and Islam. The Force doesn't seem to have a personality or will, unlike God. It also doesn't dictate a morality or ethical system, since there can be both good (Luke) and evil (Darth Vader) people who can use it. Although certain people can be trained to use it, there isn't an omnipotent, benevolent entity who looks out for everyone. So people who want to follow the Jedi philosophy have a major break with traditional religions.
But the biggest question that was raised by the article was about the meeting of Star Wars believers. That meeting was discussed by CNN even though only 40 people were there. How do we get CNN to cover a WASH meeting when we have an attendance of 40 people? Maybe we should all come with light sabers!
Monday, January 15, 2018
By Mathew Goldstein
Neurologists at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of South Carolina (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science watched the brains of 40 self-declared liberal students in a functional MRI. USC neuroscientists compared whether, and how much, people change their minds on non-political and political issues when provided counter-evidence. During their brain imaging sessions, participants were presented with eight political statements that they had said they believe just as strongly as a set of eight non-political statements. They were then shown five counter claims that challenged each statement.
People will flexibly react to changes in their environment. If a sidewalk or road is blocked then we have no difficulty understanding that we need to consider finding a different route to our destination. But we are not consistently rationally flexible, particularly with regard to beliefs that we link to our self-identity. Instead of prioritizing best fit with the overall available evidence, we may negatively react to evidence that conflicts with our self-identity linked beliefs similar to the way we negatively react to a threat.
My response is this: We cannot trust our intuition, or anything mostly rooted in intuition, like faith or hope, to answer the big questions about how the universe functions because the answers to the big questions are mostly non-intuitive and counter-intuitive. So it is a mistake to rule out anything a-priori or to rely only on logic not anchored in evidenced. It is often inconsistent for some assertion to be simultaneously true and false. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that given that X (naturalism) is true it is probably also the case that the opposite of X (supernaturalism) is impossible. But the impossibility of X being false when it is true is not a proper justification for concluding X is true, we still must justify our conclusion regarding X. To justify the conclusion that it is impossible for X to be false, we paradoxically should consider what is missing that would be required to properly justify a conclusion that X is false.
A-priori ruling out even identifying what qualifies as missing evidence favoring alternative conclusions is bad epistemology. Fairly considering what is needed to justify a conclusion entails also considering what would be needed to justify a contrary conclusion. Our justification for reaching a particular conclusion about how the universe functions is incomplete if we cannot identify missing justifications for concluding otherwise. When a conclusion is consistently supported by an abundance of highly diversified, interconnected, and direct empirical evidence it becomes unlikely that the available evidence will change so drastically as to favor the contrary conclusion, so we need not worry that our beliefs will be unstable if we allow the evidence to dictate. When a conclusion is inconsistently supported by rare, narrow, unconnected, and indirect non-empirical evidence then we should not have a strong commitment to that conclusion. Either way, there is no harm in identifying what evidence is missing that would change our conclusion if it was found.
Here is a link to Martin Luther King's "Why I Cannot Be Silent" speech, posted on alternet.org. How is it possible that America has gone from a leader who speaks like this:
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…" We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.