Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On the Religious Faith and the Free Spirit

Uzzah spake, saying: "A ship in the harbour is safe from the storm.  But that is not what ships were built for."

'God'? What do you Mean by 'God?

The Christian says, “God exists, and he loves me.” The atheist says, “God does not exist.” The pantheist says, “all that is, is God.”

The philosopher says, “What do you mean by 'god'?” and “what do you mean by 'exists'?”

So what is 'God'?

I believe in unicorns.  They are magical, horse-like creatures possessing a single horn in the middle of their foreheads.  Their touch heals all disease, and they can only be tamed by the virtuous and the virginal.  The term 'unicorn' exists, it is well defined.  Presented with a phenomenon, I can instantly make the choice and say, “this is not a unicorn,” although I have never seen one.  Unicorns exist; they are conspicuous by their absence.

Professor von Meeces.
Sitting next to me right now is Professor von Meeces.   He loves meeces to pieces.   Professor von Meeces is a cat.   He is a phenomenon, a signifier as the semioticians say, that corresponds to the sign 'cat'.  He has pointy ears, a fuzzy tail, and dainty cat feet.  He enjoys wandering the neighborhood at night, ear scritchies, and taking extended tongue baths (which is his current activity, as my hands are otherwise engaged in typing).  He is white with grey splotches on his head, body, and tail.

But Professor von Meeces is not 'cat'.  He is a four-dimensional representation of the symbolic archetype 'cat'.  'Cat' is the intensional defenition; P vM is a member of the extension.  He is a member of the set of all cats: {..., Professor von Meeces, ...} whose sign is 'cat'.  'Cat' exists, because Professor von Meeces is one; he is a cat.   He is also bored, and leaving to find something fun to do.

'Justice' is a sign, and intensional definition.   As such, it must describe an exstensionally defined set.  There must be phenomena that are justice.   But as Sir Terry reminds us, we may grind the universe as finely as we may, and we will not find one particle, one molecule, one atom of justice.   So although the sign 'justice' exists, finding it is necessarily difficult.   We must decide from moment to moment if any given phenomenon is in the extensional defenition of 'justice'.

So what of God? Or perhaps, to say, what of 'God'?   God is a sign that points to phenomena, like 'unicorn', 'cat', or 'justice'.  But 'God' is tricky to define, perhaps trickier than 'justice', 'cat', or even 'unicorn'.

John of the epistles says that “God is love”.  So perhaps by the principle of transitive equality, we can sat that 'love is God'?  Upon further investigation, we find that people use 'god' to mean many different things, at different times.  So much is godlike, or perhaps indulging in an archaism, godly.  God is mercy, but also justice.  God is peace, but is also righteousness.   'God' is a semantic variable, it points not to a set of phenomena, to a set of signifiers, but to a different set of signs.  'God' means different things to different people at different times in different places.

And so the philosopher asks, “What do you mean by 'God'?”

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

WEIRD people and psychology


One issue that comes to mind is how does the scientific study of psychology affect the population itself? The practice of a the rigorous, ahistorical, scientific study of animal behavior (at least as modern psychology understands itself) presumes or requires the studying population to have adopted certain behaviors and attitudes: an understanding of inductive logic, the mathematics of statistics, the concept of quasi-objective study, and so on. The historical discipline of scientific research psychology has emerged from the WEIRD societies, and is practiced by non-WEIRD societies (like China, India, or Japan, perhaps) only to the extent that those societies may have adopted some features of the WEIRD societies. That is to say, for the WEIRD psychologists accept the work of non-WEIRD psychologists only to the extent that the non-WEIRD psychologists behave like WEIRD psychologists (especially with regards to concepts like rigour, validity, statistical correleation, strong vs. weak evidence, focus on quantifiable or measurable values, and so on.)

The problem extends to WEIRD psychologists examining members of non-WEIRD populations. Non-WEIRD participants must be able to understand instructions, understand the concept of participating in a psychological study, and so on. The latter here is significant; the findings of the Nuremberg tribunals (themselves a WEIRD social institution) require that all human participants in medical studies (usually considered to include psychological studies) must provide informed consent, which assumes an ability to understand what they are expected to do, what might be done to them, and what effects the study may have.

So it may be an inherent limitation of scientific psychology as it is practiced in the WEIRD societies that it can only study WEIRD individuals or individuals with WEIRD-like features.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

If Relationships Came with Miranda Warnings

(This has been sitting in drafts folder awhile)

You have been detained on suspicion of being in a relationship.  Specific charges may be pressed against you later; you are not entitled to know what they are.  You do not have the right to be silent.  Anything you say or do at any time may be held against you.  Any breath you take, facial expression, or eye movement will be used against you.  Should you elect to remain silent in order to avoid self-incrimination, you will be summarily condemned as being emotionally distant, bottling up, and not communicating.

You do not have the right to an attorney.  Your partner will be serving as prosecutor, judge, and executioner.  Should you attempt to mount a defense, it will be construed as evidence of your guilt.  You may elect to confess, plead guilty, and throw yourself upon the mercy of the court; doing so may increase the severity of your sentence.

The recollection and imagination of the court will be the only record kept.  Anything you might have been imagined to say or do will be entered into evidence against you.  You may attempt to indicate any mitigating factors; doing so will be used against you.  Any positive behaviors on your part, now or in the past, will be used against you.

Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?  Doesn't matter; you're guilty anyway.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rereading "Beyond Good and Evil"

We sail right over morality, we crush, we destroy perhaps the remains of our own morality by daring to make our voyage there -- but what matter are we!  Never yet did a profounder world of insight reveal itself to daring travelers and adventurers...
By redefining the origin of morality as arising from psycho-social responses to needs (needs of the individual, the tribe, and the species), and through those needs to the evolutionary causes that create them, we move "beyond good and evil".

...and the psychologist who thus "makes a sacrifice" -- it is not the sacrifizio dell' intelletto, on the contrary! -- will at least be entitled to demand in return that psychology shall be recognized again as the queen of the sciences, for whose service and preparation the other sciences exist.  For psychology is now again the path to the fundamental problems.

Nietzsche here suffers somewhat from a lack of vocabulary.  The reference here is not simply to psychology as it is conceived in the modern world, that is as the science of animal behavior (accepting as we do that humans, as always, are laughing apes).  In the words of philosophical idealism, "nothing exists but the mind and it's objects."  To a post-Nietzschean subjecticivist, "all experience of reality is mediated by the process of perception."  The vocabulary of semiotics might assert "Reality presents itself to the mind as an ongoing narrative.  Standing between the individual and the objects in reality signified are the mind and the signs it grasps and manipulates."  Psychology, here to Nietzsche, refers to the study of the mind, and thus includes the study of logic, of semiotics, of perception, of linguistics, of ontology, of neurology, and of the philosophy of science: that is, the mind and its objects.

More than that, the field of psychology itself has sown the seeds Nietzsche has planted here and elsewhere.  Neo-Freudian and Maslowian accounts of behavior assume that animals (laughing apes!) have needs they must satisfy.  However, there are usually barriers, obstacles, and constraints to overcome.  The problem-solving processes present in opportunistic, scavenging omnivores (laughing apes!) exist to overcome those obstacles, avoid those barriers, and chart a path within those constraints (which might be physical or social) in order to fulfill or satisfy those needs (Neo-Freudian translations: the ego finding ways to satisfy the desires of the id).

All of the elaborate games we laughing apes play, including philosophy, society, morality, logic, mathematics, language, and even the sciences and the engineering and technology that unfold from them are simply a way to meet the elaborate web of needs and satisfy the tangled skein of motive.  Ergo, in a sense, the physical and life sciences are obedient to psychology and social psychology.

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Meyers-Briggs science

After all, you know well enough that it cannot be of any consequence if you of all people are proved right; you know that no philosopher so far has been proved right, and that there might be a more laudable truthfulness in every little question mark that you place after your special words and favorite doctorines (and occasionally after yourselves) than in all the solemn gestures and trumps before accusers and law courts.
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Uzzah spoke, saying: "My hoplites of Socrates, do not find for yourselves a hill to die defending, lest your sacrifice should prove hollow and empty.  Instead, find yourselves a hill to take.  Should your victory prove once again hollow, find yourselves another hill.  When called upon to defend yourselves, follow the practice of the Grand Khan, fade into the steppes, and defend nothing.  Simply wait until your opponents dig their trenches, and then gird yourselves for a new attack!

If, in the end, you find that you attack yourselves, so much the better!

It's said by some acolytes of the Meyers-Briggs that the most successful scientist and mathematician is the INTJ, for they will find an idea, defend it for their own, and strive to make it true.  What then of the poor, benighted INTP, who attacks truths in pursuit of an idea?"

Welcome to the Hell of never being sure.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

An Appeal

Unsuprising to many, Google keeps stats on blogs her at blogspot.com.  I like to look in on them from time to time.  I find myself curious about the search terms some of you use to find my humble offerings.  What is it that you were looking for that you wound up here at Et In Arcadia Ego?  Did you find anything interesting or of use?  No one is under any obligation to leave a comment here, of course, but if what you've found here tickles you somehow, feel free to leave me an email telling me what it was you found here, and why you were looking for it.



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My Disbelief Fell Off the Suspension Hook

I just finished the 2009 film "The Fourth Kind".  The film is a supernatural UFO horror film, told in a mockumentary style that attempts to interleave dramatizations with 'found footage'.  Attempts are made to convince the viewer that these are actual events, with authentic footage.  This is not unheard of with horror films; the 'based on a true story' claim has been around since at least "The Amityville Horror" and "The Texas Chainsaw massacre, with the "found footage" technique becoming prominent with "The Evil Dead" and "The Blair Witch Project".

However, it's difficult to establish suspension of disbelief here, because it's apparent that the film's creators only have a cursory understanding of modern psychology and psychotherapy.

To wit:

#1: People under hypnosis don't move around very much. Violent movements will bring a person out of a hypnotic state.  Hypnosis is a form of mental relaxation, inconsistent with physical activity.

#2: Hypnosis does not enhance memory; but hypnosis does encourage confabulation.

#3: If reports of waking up and seeing an owl occurs repeatedly, the response is to ask the patient to keep a pad of paper and pen to record their observations during bouts of insomnia, not hypnotize them the next day and ask them what they remember.

#4: Hypnosis is an altered mental state brought about by relaxation and calm.  Hypnotized people, even ones recalling traumatic events, typically do not experience significant levels of anxiety.  This is part of how hypnosis can be used in the treatment of phobias and other anxiety disorders.

#5: Hypnotised people do not typically experience physiological transients like retching or gargling. If you wouldn't do it dreaming or daydreaming, you won't do it under hypnosis.  A hypnotised person may choke, retch, burp, etc. as a response to a physical stimulus occuring in their physical body, unrelated to hypnosis, but that is not what is being depicted here.

#6: The main character initially positions herself as a psychologist engaged on a research project. Fun fact: despite what "Bones" tells you, psychologists are in fact scientists. Psychology is the science and study of behavior. Behavior that is observed, measurable, quantifiable. As a science, psychology operates on an empirical basis of fact. There is really no need for to psychologists to keep telling each other to focus on the facts. That's like MDs telling each other to focus on the symptoms.

#7: It's implausible for hypnotized patients to contort themselves severely enough to damage themselves.  It may be physiologically possible, under exposure to significant stress and adrenaline or in the course of a seizure, to contract a muscle group powerfully enough to cause damage to the underlying connective tissue, but such a state is incompatible with a hypnotic one (well, I suppose it would be possible for someone with a seizure disorder to experience one while in a hypnotic state, but that would be a readily identifiable medical phenomenon).

#8: Speaking languages one does not know, levitating, and electronic disruption of recording devices are unlikely to happen during clinical hypnosis.

#9: Unrelated to psychology, the depiction of Sumerian language and culture is off.  In a very narrow sense, Sumerian is "the oldest historical language", but only if one accepts that the defenition of "historical" includes "written down".  Sumerian is indeed the oldest known written language, but is not the oldest language of h. sapiens sapiens.  It is curious in that it is unrelated linguistically to any other known languages, but that is usually explained by the prevalence and dominance of the Semetic tongues in the area after the fall of the Sumerian culture.  Sumerian is not the "holy grail" of dead languages, except perhaps to historical linguists and historians focusing on the Near East.  Other researchers might be more interested in proto-Indo-European, proto-Dravidian, Mayan, or Minoan.

Of course, midway through the movie, the story comes completely off the rails...  some how hypnosis summons the ultras(1), who then can communicate with or through the hypnotised patient in real time.  The ultras here are inconsistent in their behavior - sometimes they float people through the roof (tidily repairing the damage behind them), other times they open doors and walk in.  They apparently can communicate telepathically, but also speak out loud for the benefit of everyone in the room.  The ultras here speak Sumerian, a language that a backwater psychologist in Nome, Alaska can somehow identify.  While adding Sumerian is a nice touch, implying that the ultras have been visiting us for a while (and Sumerian mythology has some interesting star god aspects to it), there's little reason to expect any given group of ultras to speak a human language.  It's also odd that the ultras speak a human language unchanged after 6,000 years, this is contrary to all theories of language change.  Also, why would telepathic ultras speak a dead language to humans who can't understand it?  Why not modern English?

Ultimately, the movie reveals itself to be entirely a work of fiction.
(1) We here at Et In Arcadia Ego prefer to follow John Keel and use the term ultra-terrestrial when describing a certain class of phenomena., and any putative non-human participants therein.  Doing so tends to highlight certain commonalities regarding events recorded in many different places and times.  Ultra-terrestrial events tend to occur at night, in sparesly inhabited areas.

Experiencers tend to be in or approaching an altered state of consciousness, usually one related to relaxation: sleep, highway hypnosis, flying at night over nondescript terrain, or engaged in a mindless repetitive activity (repetition relaxation).  Frequently physical exertion is at a minimum (engaging the relation between physical immobility and mental relaxation).

From a distance, the manifest themselves as lights, less often as sounds.  Movement through the sky is not uncommon, but such movement is distinctly non-newtonian.  It defys normal intuitions regarding inertia or gravity.  Circular swirling is not uncommon.

Upon entering the circumfrance of the phenomenon, a number of psychological effects occur.  There is a distortion of the perception of the passage of time.  Often, some form of paralysis or partial paralysis occurs (the known phenomenon of sleep paralysis is similar).  Auditory, visual, and olfactory hallucinations may occur.  Kinesthetic and balance may be affected, contributing to a feeling of flying, floating, or falling.  Anxiety ensues, which may be induced by the experience or as a reaction to it; this may lead to feelings of fear, terror, or paranoia.  Many experiencers report 'eerie' feelings, which may be the result of feeling anxiety with no readily identifiable cause.

Interestingly, the visual and auditory hallucinations experienced are resonant with the internal imagery of the experiencer.  Freudian or Jungian imagery predominates in accordance with the cultural and emotional worldview of the experiencer: 20th century Americans tend to report 'encounters with extra-terrestrials', while Christians might recount meeting devils or angels.  Prechristian peoples may have myths about the 'little people', the 'Elfreich'*, 'will'o'wisps' and similar.  Often, the anxieties of the experiencer will become manifest: psycho-sexual encounters and so on.  Barney Hill for instance reported his abductors as grey aliens wearing Nazi uniforms, something not unlikely to occur in the unconscious mind of a black man married to a white woman in the post WWII U.S. South.

Using the term ultra-terrestrial allows the recognition of the similarities of a number of cases, from faerie abductions in the British Isles, to witches Sabbats in colonial New England, to Incubi/Succubi events of Medieval Christendom.

* Origin of the English term 'eldritch'.


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Saturday, September 3, 2011

An Open Letter...

...to the man who wanted me to teach him how to defend himself.
Everything I said to you was true. There is little I could teach you in two hours at a nightclub that would adequetly prepare you for your situation. I don't know the four fingered palm walking death punch. In a professional career, there has never once been a manuver or technique that worked out like I had planned it. Nothing works as it is taught in a dojo or gym. If I had tried to teach you an armlock or a kick or proper knee technique, it would likely not have had the result you wanted.
I told you that your best defense was probably to walk away. Keep fifteen feet between you and your opponent, and you'll probably be all right. The goal of a fight, as I told, you, is to endevour to ensure that your opponent cannot hurt you. If he cannot come close to you, you will have won. Or, as Abraham Lincoln is reported as having have said, “I should prefer to defeat my enemy by making him my friend.” Use that. Talk your way out of it. Find a compromise that you can both live with. Is whatever triggered the fight worth shedding blood over? Is it worth dying over? Is it worth killing over?
If it is, then you are in a much darker place. I asked you how commited you were to this; you told me that you were, that you'd do anything. Are you willing to go that far? Are you willing to decide that a fight is inevitable, and so to win at all costs? Would you strike first? From behind? With a weapon? Are you willing to set aside all concept of 'fair play' to get what you want? Can you set aside human restraint? Could you take the eye? Could you stand to feel bone shatter beneath your hands? Could you rip out another thinking being's jugular? With your teeth, if you must? Are you so driven by your demons that your only desire becomes to rip out a man's liver so he can watch you eat it before he dies?
I offered to refer you to some of the local schools that I think well of, but you told me you didn't want to live like a monk. All of the best fighters I know and have known do. Fighting is no simple matter, nowhere near as simple as it looks. To be ready to fight at a moment's notice means commiting your life, your mind, and your soul to it. Combat is the ultimate game, the ultimate contest. Strength, speed , coordination, endurance, stamina, toughness, balance, finesse, you will need all of these. You can't afford to sacrifice any, and you will have to strive to improve them all as much as you can find within you to do. You'll have to become a person who welcomes exercising in 90 degree heat, someone willing to do leg exercises until you feel like you can't stand up. You have to be willing to work through fatigue, through pain, and through injury.
Once you are here, you can begin to learn to fight. You can learn techniques and manuevers, not with an eye to executing them well, but to understanding how they're supposed to work. From here, you may begin integrating an understanding of how your body moves, and what you can do with it. Many things will begin to make sense: “When the enemy expands, I contract. When the enemy contracts I expand.” At that point perhaps I can teach you what little I know; how to move in straight lines to reach your goals, how to push opposition out of your way, I liken fighting to playing chess: develop your weapons, use them to take apart your opponent. Flow around opposition, turn your defense into an attack and your attack into defense. Drive at your enemy before he believes it's possible.
To the extent that you dedicate yourself to learning to fight, you will be darkening your soul. “He who strives with monsters must take care not to become a monster; know that when you gaze into the abyss, it also gazes into you.” Are you ready for that? Be prepared to lose everything you hold dear on one bad night. You must be willing to let go. One who fights to keep something is vulnerable; attachment becomes a weakness. Your destiny will be to end up a red smear across a stretch of pavement somewhere; you will have to content yourself with the question, “did I die well?” Your blood, your life must be meaningless to you; your question is “how many of the bastards can I take with me.” Your concern will not be to live through the night, it must be “will what I hold dearer than myself be safe?” Choosing this path will not take you to Heaven, but your consolation in Hell must be that you gave your all for what you believed in; that, because of you, others may in their own time reach a Heaven of their own.
There are dogs who grow up to be constant companions, loving and friendly. Then there are dogs trained to rip the throat out of anyone making a false move. Short of a very undeerstanding show of friendship and faith, the latter are put down if they live past their prime. The choice before you is the same one Achilles made: a long life in comfort and obscurity, or a quick death on the fields of Illium. The choice is yours. Do you still want me to try to teach you to fight?


A relevant quote:

Somewhere out there is someone who had loving parents, watched clouds on a summer's day, fell in love, lost a friend, is kind to small animals, and knows how to say "please" and "thank you," and yet somehow the two of you are going to end up in a dirty little room with one knife between you and you are going to have to kill that human being.

It's a terrible thing.  Not just because he's come to the same realization and wants to survive just as much as you do, meaning he's going to try to puncture your internal organs to set off a cascading trauma effect that ends with you voiding your bowels, dying alone and removed from everything you've ever loved.  No, it's a terrible thing because somewhere along the way you could have made a different choice.  You could have avoided that knife, that room, and maybe even found some kind of common ground between the two of you.  Or at least, you might have divvied up some territory and left each other alone.  That would have been a lot smarter, wouldn't it?  Even dogs are smart enough to do that. Now you're staring into the eyes of a fellow human and in a couple of minutes one of you is going to be vomiting blood to the rhythm of a fading heartbeat.  The survivor is going to remember this night for the rest of his life.
Can you do that?  Do you want to do that? Don't mistake suicidal ideation for courage, or a frustrated sense of purpose for commitment.

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