The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

It’s all right Ma, I’m only bleeding

Driving for some hours today to the Optomist in Queenscliff I was singing along with the Car Collection I made for the Rose’s Gap roadtrip and on the way home was a stripped back version of It’s All Right Ma, I’m only Bleeding by Bob Dylan with nothing but a guitar and a harmonica. The Bird’s version was a significant feature of the soundtrack to Easy Rider with Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.

IAMIOB is one of my all time Dylan favorites. Pure Beat poet inspired stream of consciousness pre-rap observations of the essential existential angst of modern life. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but that’s the best way I can put it. Or you can just listen to the man himself in one of these MyTube thingies. Sensational lyrics if you maintain the concentration.

Filed under: Music, Philosophy, YouTube

Sunday Sermon – God delusion vs Material illusion

Inspired by Bruce’s excellent exposition concerning ontological arguments that seek to infer the existence of a (creator/supreme) God through pure reason and intuition, I wrote the following comment, which seems as good a reason as any to repost it here:

sriyantra.jpgI am reasonably well-versed in the theology of Vedanta and Hinduism. Bhakti yoga is considered to be the top-most practice if one desires to know God (as opposed to merely arguing for the existence or otherwise of a supreme God).

Bhakti means devotion. While there are many injunctions and regulations contained in the practice, they only serve to enhance the development of devotion through service to God. Bhaktas argue that God cannot be approached by analysis and logic, or by empirical processes. In other words, the existence of God is experienced beyond the perview of the mind and senses, and even intelligence. The simple analogy is that you cannot know the taste of the honey in a jar by licking the outside. You need to open the jar and get stuck into it.

On a more technical level, Vedanta argues that God’s existence is purely spiritual and utterly non-material. It is beyond the material world and all it contains. The material world is regarded as a temporary manifestation from the spiritual world. The spiritual world is considered causeless and eternal, without cause, beginning or end. It just is. The only way of knowing or attaining the spiritual world is through various kinds of practices, and even then, only by the grace of God, which is said to be particularly abundant if the practitioner develops devotion.

It’s a rough thumbnail, but having a scientific mind, I have always found this world view appealing. In quantum mechanics, astrophysics, molecular biochemistry etc scientists develop all kinds of descriptions and explanations for the origin of matter, time, energy, the universe, life and even consciousness. And no matter how compelling the argument, these ideas ultimately remain unknowable as reality. They are models. We cannot experience the Big Bang or a black hole. We will never really know. We accept the models because they are feasible. From my own study of Vedanta I would conclude that its models of the origin of matter, time, the universe, life, consciousness are extremely elaborate, detailed, and given that we can never truly know, they have their own compelling internal plausibility. It is certainly a more optimistic and interesting outlook than the nihilistic material science one. So it comes down to a matter of choice, disposition, experience, conditioning, and inclination, and if it is true, even karma (or reaction to previous actions).

My own conclusion is that the existence or non-existence of God cannot be resolved intellectually but only experientially and individually, and for the seeker it is a long slow dedicated process – indeed a lifetime – and you may still not know when you die. So it’s fairly pointless people going hammer and tongs at each other trying to win the argument. It will never be resolved by words. I would argue that it becomes a matter of faith – either in the existence or non-existence of God – faith in one’s belief system.

Disclaimer: I have previously written on the unfortunate tendency of human beings to become convinced they know the truth when in fact they do not, and try to inflict it on others (I would equally apply this to rabid free market economists). Even if we accept that there are genuine spiritual paths to enlightenment, religious organisations are often populated by religious bureaucrats rather than the spiritually enlightened and these bureaucrats may actually not have any spiritual realisation at all (George Pell, anyone?). This usually leads to behaviour such as persecuting non-believers and declaring war on heathens and infidel. I do not endorse such practices.

Filed under: Big Picture, Philosophy, Religion, Science

Religions have their origins as systems for spirituality

Bannerman’s musings on the events of the day inspired the following reflection on the nature of organised religion, and it’s relationship, if any, with the human urge to spirituality. So for those in pursuit of the Dog’s Bollocks I post some relevant comments here.

Organised religions have their origins as systems to attain spirituality (however it be culturally defined) but are not that actual spirituality.

Although manifold and various in abundance, the failings of organised religions are not sufficient grounds to condemn the notion of individual spiritual growth, for it is a universal tendency of humankind.

The religious systems historically have acted in concert with the governance of the State, and so become battlefields for politics and commerce, which we are now seeing on a global scale. It is no accident that Bush’s neoconservative free market US is politically dominated by apoclyptic Christians wanting to bring it on down so that the End Days will arrive, Jesus will appear, and all true believers will be raptured, youthful and whole, into the radiance of God’s heavenly realm. Equally as narcissistically insane as ‘the mad mullahs’ fighting God’s great battle to literally die by the sword, to attain 17 virgins in heaven.

But the point is that the scriptures of both these Abrahamic religious traditions should correctly be regarded as metaphors for the personal struggle for spirituality, not a political handbook. People tend to confuse the two, especially if vulnerable to manipulation by unscrupulous leaders and politicians.

As they say, you shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. And these days, there’s a whole lot more bathwater than baby.

It comes across as a bit wholesome at times, but the Compass program, The Quiet Revolution last night was interesting in this respect. Looking at some individuals’ efforts to extract the baby from the bathwater.

Filed under: Big Picture, Ideology, Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Of Pell and Popes and the Primacy of Conscience

What is primacy of conscience and its role in Catholic theology and why does Cardinal George Pell want the so-called doctrine abandoned by the Catholic Church? The principle of the primacy of conscience is deeply embedded in our western moral tradition. According to this principle, one must follow the sure judgment of conscience even when through no fault of one’s own it is mistaken.

Recent discussion of primacy of conscience arising from his threats to Catholic politicians who support therapeutic embryonic stem cell research inspired me to explore the issue some more to better understand why Pell’s forays into politics continue to highlight his attacks on the primacy of conscience. In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald his stance is unequivocal. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Philosophy, Religion

Logical Fallacy – spot the comment button!

Five Public Opinions continues to raise interesting philosophical conundra such as Spot the Logical Fallacy, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to leave a comment. I’m assuming they’re disabled, which is a pity, as I’m often inspired to reply. So if you’re out there Arthur, please let me know how I can comment!

My comment for Spot the Logical Fallacy:

Short version: If the existence or non-existence of God could be proven decisively by application of logic, the issue would be long done and dusted.

Long Version: The Vedantic conclusion is that God is eternal and without cause. In this context, eternal doesn’t mean a very long time and them some, it means without beginning or end. And as I’ve mentioned, without cause. This simple conclusion is at once frustrating and infuriating, for it defies logic and empiricism. Vedantists call it ‘inconceivable’. It is beyond logic and intellectual analysis. We can debate the existence of God until the cows come home and we’ll never reach a definitive conclusion. The extent that we can ‘know’ or ‘deny’ is derived from experience and emotion. For believers it is through mysticism, whatever that is! Perhaps for free-market globalists it is economics. Either way, no belief system has the right to impose its rules on others, especially in violent and oppressive ways.

Filed under: Big Picture, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, Science

Primacy of conscience – Pell vs The Popes

Archbishop George Pell continues to hand down ecclesiastical edicts at odds with his Papal superiors: “To be a disciple of Christ means accepting discipline because the Catholic church has never followed today’s fashionable notion of the primacy of conscience, which is, of course secular relativism with a religious face.” Perhaps he’s still pissed off at not being appointed Australia’s first Pope?

In response to using his Easter sermon to urge his flock to stop moralising about things like the Iraq War and climate change, I came across some background material on the debate on primacy of conscience in the Catholic Church. This is something of a hobby horse for Pell. He’s been railing against it for years, and continues to do so. However, it seems that both Pope John Paul and the current Pope Benedict XVI support the ‘fashionable notion’ of the primacy of conscience. I’m happy to be corrected, but as far as I can tell it is Pell who is out of line here. Maybe he should be excommunicated – although to be fair, under primacy of conscience doctrine, Pell is entitled to follow his own conscience in not supporting it. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Big Picture, Philosophy, Politics, Religion

The Evolution of Nature’s Destiny

Michael DentonIn 1985, a book by a largely unknown Australian biologist and physician, Michael Denton, was published in London: Evolution: A Theory in Crisis and soon won a wide and appreciative audience. Denton offered a systematic critique of neo-Darwinism, evaluating skeptically both the mechanism of evolution, and the patterns of evidence (fossil, embryological, anatomical, molecular) usually adduced in support of the theory of common descent. His book was instrumental in starting the intelligent design movement.

In August 1998, Denton’s eagerly-awaited second book arrived: Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe. Readers expecting a continuation of the arguments of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, however, found a line of argument markedly different from the earlier book. Although much of Denton’s skepticism about neo-Darwinism remained, gone were the challenges to the theory of universal common descent–i.e., the common ancestry of all terrestrial organisms–which had made Evolution especially controversial with mainstream biologists. In their place was an unstinting advocacy of common descent, and a notion of “directed evolution” in which the historical unfolding of life on earth was “built into” the universe from the start.1

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Big Picture, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Technology

The Collapse of Globalism – why Rudd offers hope

The Collapse of GlobalismI am re-reading The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World by essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul. While not likely to be popular with tax-cutters and free-market true believers, Saul presents a compelling discourse on free-market globalisation worthy of reading by all reasonable people with a passing interest in politics and economics.

Saul is “particularly known for his commentaries on the nature of individualism, citizenship and the public good; the failures of managerially/technocratically led societies; the confusion between leadership and managerialism; military strategy, in particular irregular warfare; the role of freedom of speech and culture; and his critique of contemporary economic arguments.”

For the uninitiated, Saul has had a growing impact on political and economic thought in many countries. Declared a “prophet” by TIME magazine, he is included in the prestigious Utne Reader’s list of the world’s 100 leading thinkers and visionaries.

From Julian Brookes’ interview with John Ralston Saul for Mother Jones:

The current wave of globalization has its origins in the economic crises of 1970s, when the industrialized economies, after three decades of steady growth, began to flounder, beset by persistently high unemployment and inflation, and governments began casting around for an alternative to the Keynesian orthodoxy that had dominated economic thinking since the end of the Second World War. They found that alternative in a (hitherto fringe) school of thought associated with Friedrich von Hayek and, later, Milton Friedman, one premised on the notion that in matters of economic management government was the problem, not part of the solution, as Keynesianism had it.

JRS: “When I sat down to write the book I tried to decant what is being said, and it’s this: Globalisation is a theory of truth, and the truth is that you must look at the world through an economic prism, and in that way you’ll understand nation states, war, how to organize politics, what to do in society—everything will be judged somehow through this economic prism. But economics does not apply to a still life; economics applies to real societies. All real societies have problems, have challenges, have things that aren’t what you’d expect. It has to work in the real world.

MJ: And the argument is that economic forces are inevitable and ultimately beneficent.

JRS: There are warning signals of [ideological thinking]—of ideas as religion—and one of them is this idea of inevitability. As soon as you hear somebody saying ‘This is inevitable,’ you basically know they have a weak case and are true believers in an ideology. Globalization has been immersed in just such an argument.

MJ: And it’s an argument that doesn’t have much use for the concept of the public good, correct?

JRS: Once you believe that the market is inevitable you start believing that the lower the taxes the bigger the growth, and the happier people will be. Well, there’s absolutely no historic proof for that at all. That doesn’t mean taxes can’t be too high or that they can’t be badly spent or that you can’t have bureaucratic inefficiency—you can, but those are all different issues. But once people start believing that the sign that individual rights are being successfully asserted is that you’re not paying taxes, then your society’s in real trouble. There’s nothing wrong with paying taxes; they should be paid in proportion to how rich you are. This idea that you’re going to get better growth by cutting taxes at the top has no historical justification. And it’s certainly not an argument in favor of capitalism.

Saul is not arguing that all aspects of Globalist ideology have failed, but that there is an imbalance between the promise and the outcome:

…in good part because a growing assertion of of economic wealth is matched by a growing realization of shrinking funds for the common good and greater instability in individual lives. Much of that instability is of economic origin. The mismatch between a spectacular growth in paper wealth, a marginal growth in real wealth and shrinking public and social capacities suggests some new form of inflation – a vaporization of money through an over-obsession with consumption economics and whole range of imaginary market activities as highlighted by the money markets and the world of mergers and acquisitions.

…the Globalisation movement has produced myriad market-oriented international binding agreements at the global level and not a single binding agreement in other areas of human intercourse – work conditions, taxation, child labour, health and so on. The deep imbalance of the movement, however successful in its own terms, cannot help but provoke unexpected forms of disorder.

So why should you read this book?

JRS: People have become so used to books where authors tell them what to do; or say there’s nothing to be done. What I’m doing is simply stepping back and giving people the picture—which they don’t have—of the last 30 years. And it tells you something about what works and doesn’t work. I’m saying that since 1995 we’ve been in an interregnum, a vacuum where the picture is confused, and our elites are in denial because they’re inheritors of the system. They don’t have the capacity to stand back and say, ‘We’ve got some real problems here. Let’s think about what we can do about them. If we got some things wrong, let’s do something else.’ My book contains a lot of indications of some of the things we might be doing. But mainly I’m saying, ‘Look, here’s the way things appear to be going. What do you think you can do about it?’

Saul argues that what comes next will be decided either by conscious decision, special interest groups or circumstance, and probably a mix of all three. The soundness of the outcome will depend on a balance of all three, with conscious decision being the most desirable. But most importantly, people have the ability to choose, and to believe in the possibility of change is to believe in the reality of choice, that we have the power to choose in the hope of altering society for the greater good.

In Australia we have been governed for eleven years by economic ideologues. People are tired of retrogressive ‘reform’, disillusioned with the deterioration of life quality and the erosion of traditional values, and are looking for an alternative. This is what Rudd was driving at with Howard’s Brutopia:

“JOHN Howard’s culture wars are essentially a mask for the real battle of ideas in Australian politics today: the battle between free-market fundamentalism and the social-democratic belief that individual reward can be balanced with social responsibility.

“The contradiction within the political Right is as old as liberalism and conservatism: the ruthless logic of the market rubbing up against a tradition that holds that those with economic power have a moral obligation to protect those without it.

“For these reasons, it is critical that social democrats recognise that the culture war is not just a diversion. It is a fraud. There are no more corrosive agents at work today, on the so-called conservative institutions of family, community, church and country than the unforgiving forces of neo-liberalism, materialism and consumerism, which lay waste to anything in their way.”

Rudd’s essay in The Monthly was a landmark exposition of his vision for the future of Australia, and the conservatives would be unwise to ignore the power of his call to the Australian people. While they may not give a toss about Austrian economists and economic ideology, they recognise the need for change and, despite Howard’s warnings, feel that Rudd would be a change for the better, or at least couldn’t be any worse than another term of Howard/Costello.

Howard has always been big on ‘choice’. Voters now have a real choice for the future and seem poised to exercise it. As Lennon would have it, ‘Power to the people!’.

Filed under: Big Picture, Economics, Philosophy, Politics

Known Unknowns

At The Thinkers Podium, Bruce ponders pre-suppositionalism and a priori premisses.

…placing an argument a priori requires sound reasoning and the larger and more complex your body of a priori, the more validation it requires and the more likely it is to be invalidated. And of course you don’t want your a priori premise to be invalidated because anything a posteriori will also be invalidated.

This is standard application of logic to hypothesis making – pretty much the scientific method. You have an idea, come up with some ways of testing it and draw conclusions about the validity of the idea. Perfectly sound and reasonable. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Big Picture, Philosophy, Religion, Science

The Dog’s Bollocks

What they say

The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

This is the person who tried to analyse Hayek. This is actually a person who needs a shrink. – JC

Shut up slim. You’re an idiot.
Just you stay honest and keep that thinking cap on. – GMB

Insightful perspectives on politics and discussion of matters epistemological? I’m sold! - Bruce

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