The skeptical Turn of mind

Discuss arguments for existence of God and faith in general. Any aspect of any orientation toward religion/spirituality, as long as it is based upon a positive open to other people attitude.

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LACanuck
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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by LACanuck » Sun Feb 17, 2008 4:04 pm

You might very will be right with your point. The problem is that the argument being made is the transcendant experience proves that there is a reality behind it. And that reality must be divine. And that that divine reality must be God. There are a lot of steps in that argument that don't necessarily follow.

In fact, even the first step is not necessarily a given. Just because we have a sense of the numinous does not guarantee the reality of that which we are sensing. As a species, we have the ability to project the intentional stance onto our fellow humans, as well as onto other creatures and even inanimate objects. And it's not just an ability. It is such a fundamental part of who we are that we can't stop doing it, even when we know intellectually that we're incorrect. We 'see' a face on the moon. We 'see' animals in clouds. We (at least historically) 'sense' that our ancesters watch over us. And we want to believe that having a 'sense' of the numinous means that there is a reality to the numinous. Can you tell me why the first three are wrong and yet the last is 'proof' that God exists?

If I'm not mistaken, the argument regarding the difference is that peak experiences provide long-lasted and beneficial effects. But even that doesn't mean that the experiences point to reality. Seeing a face on the moon is a remnant of our ability to recognize preditors who are mostly hidden That ability provided a beneficial and long-lasting affect (they were more likely to survive). But that didn't mean that the shadow that was spoted (and was thought to be an enemy) was real.

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KR Wordgazer
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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by KR Wordgazer » Sun Feb 17, 2008 4:56 pm

LACanuck, if you can give me some reason why the peak experience should be regarded as just another example of our projecting patterns onto the outside world, your argument might be more persuasive. But we "see" patterns of faces and animals because real animals and faces exist to see. However, with peak experiences, we are supposed to be projecting onto reality an experience that the material world could not give us-- having an experience of something that never existed and could never exist. Why? What makes experiences of something transcendent, the same as the projection of the patterns of material things onto other aspects of the material world? Can you tell me what survival skill (such as seeing something hiding in the bushes that might kill us) is fulfilled by having an ecstatic sense of something transcending the material world? Show me why they should be considered the same type of thing. Show me what "use" this transcendent experience is, that makes it part of survival.

As far as sensing our ancestors watching over us, why are you so sure I will agree that this is "wrong"?
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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by LACanuck » Mon Feb 18, 2008 1:51 am

Let me take your post backwards.

When trying to identify the evolutionary basis for anything, you can't necesasrily assume that it is the thing itself that has been selected. It is possible that the thing you are studying is a side effect of some other ability which is useful for survival. So it's not necessarily reasonable to say 'having an ecstatic sense of the transcendant' must be a survival skill in order for it not to be real. What I'm suggesting is that there could be another trait which provides an improvement in survivability that has, as a side effect, the feeling of transcendence.

In fact, it was a comment that Meta has made a number of times that got me thinking along these lines. As Meta has stated, the people who have peak experiences are not 'losers'. Instead, they are successful, well adjusted, and intelligent. In other words, they are people who the evolutionary process would seem to favor. So now we look at other factors that those people might have in common. As Meta pointed out in a CARM post months ago, Scientific American had an article on the "God Pod", a portion of the brain that gets excited when one things about God or other similar thoughts.

Going back one more step, it is certainly true that, over the centuries, religion has had a beneficial effect on human culture. It provides a foundation for non-related people to care about one another. If you go back 25,000 years, it has been suggested that even Neanderthals had some form of a proto-religion. The ability for humans to work in groups is definitely a trait that improves survival. There is also no question that religion provides an improved basis for such co-operation. So if there were a 'gene' that caused the God Pod to come into existance, you can see that it could be a trait that improves survivability.

My point in all of this is that it is not far-fetched to think that our fascination with things religious and our sense of the numinous came from an evolutionary source. Which, again, goes against the idea that there is some reality behind our sense.

Now it's much easier to go back to the first question, that being why peak experiences could just be our projecting patterns from the outside world. As I pointed out, there is a part of the brain that gets excited at deistic thoughts. We already know that certain drugs can cause the same sense (I believe the drug that Meta referred to was psyclocyn, but I could be mistaken). We have no evidence that the people who had such peak experiences were unaware beforehand of the idea of God or transcendence. So how could calling the experience 'transcendent' be anything but a projection onto patterns that we already have, those patterns being the concepts of God and numinosity.

As for sensing the ancesters, if you have such a sense, you demonstrate my point that we have such an intentional stance even with inanimate objects. We think thoughts like "wouldn't <insert deceased relative name here> have liked being here". This is a case of projecting intent and emotion onto an object that doesn't exist in our physical work. But having that sense or thinking these thoughts does not prove that the ancenster is watching you.

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KR Wordgazer
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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by KR Wordgazer » Mon Feb 18, 2008 3:07 pm

Of course you're entitled to your opinion, LACanuck-- but I find your explanation wholly inadequate in light of what peak experiences are actually like. :)

There is the conviction that it is now (during the experience) that your eyes are open; that you are at last seeing the way things truly are; that the rest of your life-- your ordinary days-- you have been spending half-asleep or half-blind. There is a sense that all things are part of a vast plan, a greater purpose. That all things are because they are meant. The conviction stays with you when it is over. It is the rest of the time that we are not sure, that we guess or have faith-- or don't. In a peak experience, you know.
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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by LACanuck » Mon Feb 18, 2008 4:41 pm

I don't dispute the conviction. The problem is that such a conviction cannot be used as the basis for a proof that there is a reality behind the experience.

Do you realize how incredible the mind is at filling in things? Are you aware that there is a blindspot in the middle of each eye? But that the brain 'fills in' the spot by interpolating other sensory input. That the eye actually flickers multiple time each second, but that we don't see things as a blur because the mind pulls the various images together to provide a single vision of the world.

Do you know that the mind is little more than an incredible pattern matching machine. That a great part of the time, the mind is the in the process of looking for patterns and agents. Patterns, so that it can recognize situations when they come up again. And agents so that it can provide motivations to observed behaviors. All of this is done so that we are better equipped to survive...well, to survive in the past.

Most of the time, what the mind 'sees' is what is really there. But occasionally, especially when faced with sensory input that is outside the realm of the norm, it won't know what to do with it. So it attempts to match it with patterns and agents that it already has. Patterns and agents that are so built in to our psyche that we're not aware that they exist. And we couldn't ignore them even if we tried to do so. The result does not always match reality.

Have you never had caught a quick glimpse of something, processed it into an image and then been mistaken? It even happened to me today. I was about to back out of the garage and I looked in my rearview mirror. Because I was also expecting someone to arrive at the house at roughly the same time, I thought I 'say" a minivan with it's door open right at the back of the driveway. So I got out of the car to say hello. But i was mistaken. Instead, the snow, the color of a driveway from across the street and the way the shadows fell fooled me. There was no car present.

By an analogy to the argument being made, there must have been a car there, at least for the moment that I thought there was. Because, after all, I was convinced of the reality of it, enough so to guide my behavior. And as must as you can say that peak experinces are not the same thing, because they are regular and consistant and shared, that doesn't change the underlying basis for the argument. Which is that because you're convinced that there is something more, then there must be something more.

So yes, you might be convinced that the peak experience is the way things truly are. And that feeling is probably added into the collection of patterns that you have developed over your lifetime, so that it gets used over and over again. The brain also does that, because it is programmed to pay more attention to the abnormal than the normal/trivial. But to say "because I've had a peak experience, there must be some reality behind it " is not a reasonable conclusion. And that is the conclusion that Meta is making.

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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by KR Wordgazer » Tue Feb 19, 2008 1:47 am

What you are saying makes no real sense to me, LACanuck.
LACanuck wrote: Do you know that the mind is little more than an incredible pattern matching machine. That a great part of the time, the mind is the in the process of looking for patterns and agents. Patterns, so that it can recognize situations when they come up again. And agents so that it can provide motivations to observed behaviors. All of this is done so that we are better equipped to survive...well, to survive in the past.
The brain is a machine, I'll grant. The mind, I won't.

Have you never had caught a quick glimpse of something, processed it into an image and then been mistaken? It even happened to me today. I was about to back out of the garage and I looked in my rearview mirror. Because I was also expecting someone to arrive at the house at roughly the same time, I thought I 'say" a minivan with it's door open right at the back of the driveway. So I got out of the car to say hello. But i was mistaken. Instead, the snow, the color of a driveway from across the street and the way the shadows fell fooled me. There was no car present.
This is a different situation entirely. You thought you saw something. A second look told you you must have been mistaken. One was something you might expect to encounter in the physical world, the other was a reasoning based on evidence (if there'd been a van there, it would have still been there.) A peak experience is a different matter entirely. It appears unrelated to the physical senses. There is nothing afterwards to make you reason, "Oh, I was just seeing things." That's why the experience lingers, while yours was reasoned away.

Furthermore, if these experiences, and the religious feelings that are inextricably bound up with them, are so evolutionarily successful, why are you so eager to undermine them?

So yes, you might be convinced that the peak experience is the way things truly are. And that feeling is probably added into the collection of patterns that you have developed over your lifetime, so that it gets used over and over again. The brain also does that, because it is programmed to pay more attention to the abnormal than the normal/trivial. But to say "because I've had a peak experience, there must be some reality behind it " is not a reasonable conclusion. And that is the conclusion that Meta is making.
Yes, it is a "reasonable conclusion." It is not the only reasonable conclusion, clearly, since you also have a reasonable conclusion-- but I find my explanation far more reasonable than yours. I'm not trying to claim these experiences "prove" there must be something out there. But it is not unreasonable to think that is a possible, even a likely, explanation.

As for your view-- it illustrates the very thing that Metacrock started this thread with. The skeptical frame of mind is self-limiting. I find that GK Chesterton's quote, which I used in another thread, is the best way of putting it here as well:

"[The materialist] understands everything, and everything does not seem worth understanding. His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cog-wheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world. . . If the cosmos of the materialist is the real cosmos, it is not much of a cosmos. . . The whole of [this view of] life is something much more grey, narrow and trivial than the many separate aspects of it. The parts seem greater than the whole."

I think that part of what makes peak experiences "evolutionarily successful," as you have said, is that they turn our eyes away from the grey, narrow and trivial cosmos in which nothing has any ultimate purpose or meaning, to something we can actually live for and believe in. If you find your point of view satisfying, that's fine. If you want to believe only in that which you can unequivocably "prove," you're welcome to. I can't. I've tried in the past and failed-- because I'm more than just a brain-machine.
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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by LACanuck » Tue Feb 19, 2008 9:47 am

Yes, it is a "reasonable conclusion." It is not the only reasonable conclusion, clearly, since you also have a reasonable conclusion-- but I find my explanation far more reasonable than yours. I'm not trying to claim these experiences "prove" there must be something out there. But it is not unreasonable to think that is a possible, even a likely, explanation.
You misunderstood my 'reasonable conclusion' comment. My point was exactly that which you say in this quote where you say that the experiences don't prove there must be something out there. There are multiple explanations for the experiences. And while you are not claiming that the experiences prove that there is a reality behind them, the argument that Meta is making is that the experiences do prove that. My objection is entirely here...that religious experiences do not prove the existance of the divine.

I think you're also mistaken, as is Meta, about the skeptical frame of mind. The skeptical frame of mind says that if you're going to make an argument, then any assertions you make need to be back up either with studies or logic. That is not the case in the decision making paradigm that is at the heart of our conversation. You're also assuming that I don't think that peak experiences happen. That's incorrect. I believe that they do. But I'm not willing to automatically ascribe a divine origin to them. Meta asserts divinity as the source. I assert that it is capacity of humans to imagine the infinite. Meta looks to Ground of Being. I look to humanity.

Also, your Chesterton quote is incredibly short sighted. As a materialist, I make no claim to understanding everything. Even as we gain knowledge, the number of questions do not decrease. As a materialist, I have no problem standing under a clear night sky and marvelling at all that is out there. Or contemplating the intricacies of the quantum model and getting lost in the wonder of the details. And I believe that I have a purpose, that being to impact the people around me in as positive a way as I can. I strongly suspect that you and I (and many others on this forum) share that particular purpose. What I (and other atheists) don't need is an external being to provide that purpose. I have no problem generating and living to fulfill that purpose on my own. And it surprises me (and saddens me as well) that theists see this ability as a weakness and not a strength.

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KR Wordgazer
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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by KR Wordgazer » Tue Feb 19, 2008 4:18 pm

LACanuck wrote:You misunderstood my 'reasonable conclusion' comment. My point was exactly that which you say in this quote where you say that the experiences don't prove there must be something out there. There are multiple explanations for the experiences. And while you are not claiming that the experiences prove that there is a reality behind them, the argument that Meta is making is that the experiences do prove that. My objection is entirely here...that religious experiences do not prove the existance of the divine.
Actually, that's not what Metacrock's saying either. To quote him again from that thread:
Metacrock wrote:I. We should not expect Empirical Proof of God: nor do we need it.

II, We can understand a co-determinate, or God Correlate, which is empirical.

III. The empirical nature of the co-determinate provides prima facie justification for belief, which is sufficient justification for belief.
Metacrock maintains only that these experiences "provide sufficient justification for belief." Not "proof." Which is the same thing I am maintaining.

That said, yes, I did misunderstand you as saying my beliefs were unreasonable. Sorry for the miscommunication. :)
I think you're also mistaken, as is Meta, about the skeptical frame of mind. The skeptical frame of mind says that if you're going to make an argument, then any assertions you make need to be back up either with studies or logic. That is not the case in the decision making paradigm that is at the heart of our conversation. You're also assuming that I don't think that peak experiences happen. That's incorrect. I believe that they do. But I'm not willing to automatically ascribe a divine origin to them. Meta asserts divinity as the source. I assert that it is capacity of humans to imagine the infinite. Meta looks to Ground of Being. I look to humanity.
Ok-- but the reason I think my position is more reasonable is that it doesn't seem to me that your cause is sufficient for the effect. I don't think we can just "imagine" ourselves into the changes that are the positive effects of these experiences.
Also, your Chesterton quote is incredibly short sighted. As a materialist, I make no claim to understanding everything. Even as we gain knowledge, the number of questions do not decrease. As a materialist, I have no problem standing under a clear night sky and marvelling at all that is out there. Or contemplating the intricacies of the quantum model and getting lost in the wonder of the details.
I probably should have quoted more, or placed the quote in context. Chesterton was not actually saying the materialist "understands everything" so much as the materialist rules out in advance any possibilty of anything other than the physical, material world. The materialist may not understand everything, but he understands that everything must be explainable in those terms. That's what Chesterton meant. Perhaps you do not have this understanding-- perhaps you are not as strict a materialist as the ones Chesterton was addressing. It is also true that back before WWI, when he wrote this, the mindset of the Western world in general was considerably more self-confident about humanity's prospects and the progress of science to some kind of culmination of knowledge.
And I believe that I have a purpose, that being to impact the people around me in as positive a way as I can. I strongly suspect that you and I (and many others on this forum) share that particular purpose. What I (and other atheists) don't need is an external being to provide that purpose. I have no problem generating and living to fulfill that purpose on my own. And it surprises me (and saddens me as well) that theists see this ability as a weakness and not a strength.
It has to do, I think, with what kind of purpose one is willing to embrace-- a personally created one, or a transcendent one. When I was a materialist (or trying to be), I found myself teetering on the edge of nihilism all the time. If a purpose (such as helping humanity) has no other value than the value I choose to give it, then that purpose seems just as much a product of my own imagination (or perhaps the collective imagination of humans or a group of humans) as you say my belief in God is. A purpose that is of my own creation seems no more "real" in any intrinsic sense, than any other figment of my imagination. Nor can there be any intrinsic value of humanity in the grand scale of the universe, if the universe is only a particular formation of material particles, caused by random forces. I'm afraid this just isn't good enough for me. I want purpose and value that's just as real and intrinsic as the properties of the material universe.

If a personally created purpose is enough for you, that's fine. But I don't see this as either a strength or a weakness. It's just that the purpose itself seems flawed to me.
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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by Metacrock » Tue Feb 19, 2008 9:41 pm

LACanuck wrote:
Yes, it is a "reasonable conclusion." It is not the only reasonable conclusion, clearly, since you also have a reasonable conclusion-- but I find my explanation far more reasonable than yours. I'm not trying to claim these experiences "prove" there must be something out there. But it is not unreasonable to think that is a possible, even a likely, explanation.
You misunderstood my 'reasonable conclusion' comment. My point was exactly that which you say in this quote where you say that the experiences don't prove there must be something out there. There are multiple explanations for the experiences. And while you are not claiming that the experiences prove that there is a reality behind them, the argument that Meta is making is that the experiences do prove that. My objection is entirely here...that religious experiences do not prove the existence of the divine.

yes they do. alternate causality is necessarily something to deal with, but it can be dealt with. The argument can stand up to them, and so far has stood up to all comers on that point.


I think you're also mistaken, as is Meta, about the skeptical frame of mind. The skeptical frame of mind says that if you're going to make an argument, then any assertions you make need to be back up either with studies or logic. That is not the case in the decision making paradigm that is at the heart of our conversation.
I don't think that is what the skeptical frame is about, because it deny any logic and any studies. These studies I speak of have been belittled in every concieveable way by atheists on every board upon which I've discussed them. But sure there is a difference in argument and in the raw empirical data of an existential encounter. I did not go read studies or do vin diagrams before having my experiences. But I would not try to turn them into an argument without that.

You're also assuming that I don't think that peak experiences happen. That's incorrect. I believe that they do. But I'm not willing to automatically ascribe a divine origin to them.


I don't either

Meta asserts divinity as the source. I assert that it is capacity of humans to imagine the infinite. Meta looks to Ground of Being. I look to humanity.

yes, but I don't automatically do so. I do so after reading 300 studies. or reading about 300 studies. These experiences are a lot more just imagining the infinite. ti's not just an imagination it's the effects of an experince.
Also, your Chesterton quote is incredibly short sighted. As a materialist, I make no claim to understanding everything. Even as we gain knowledge, the number of questions do not decrease. As a materialist, I have no problem standing under a clear night sky and marvelling at all that is out there. Or contemplating the intricacies of the quantum model and getting lost in the wonder of the details. And I believe that I have a purpose, that being to impact the people around me in as positive a way as I can. I strongly suspect that you and I (and many others on this forum) share that particular purpose. What I (and other atheists) don't need is an external being to provide that purpose. I have no problem generating and living to fulfill that purpose on my own. And it surprises me (and saddens me as well) that theists see this ability as a weakness and not a strength.

but you are an unusually open minded skeptic. and smarter than the avareage bear. :D
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Re: The skeptical Turn of mind

Post by QuantumTroll » Wed Feb 20, 2008 5:21 am

Metacrock wrote:
LACanuck wrote:
Yes, it is a "reasonable conclusion." It is not the only reasonable conclusion, clearly, since you also have a reasonable conclusion-- but I find my explanation far more reasonable than yours. I'm not trying to claim these experiences "prove" there must be something out there. But it is not unreasonable to think that is a possible, even a likely, explanation.
You misunderstood my 'reasonable conclusion' comment. My point was exactly that which you say in this quote where you say that the experiences don't prove there must be something out there. There are multiple explanations for the experiences. And while you are not claiming that the experiences prove that there is a reality behind them, the argument that Meta is making is that the experiences do prove that. My objection is entirely here...that religious experiences do not prove the existence of the divine.

yes they do. alternate causality is necessarily something to deal with, but it can be dealt with. The argument can stand up to them, and so far has stood up to all comers on that point.
I think I'm speaking for LACanuck as well, when I ask you to explain how religious experiences prove the existence of the divine. In fact, I've made a post on the 1x1 board to this effect.

Religious experiences and the effects of religious experiences prove that something happens to a person's mental state. I believe that it's a normal occurrence like falling in love or developing an aversion to leeks after a horrible leek-related accident. Spiritual epiphanies are kind of the polar opposite of nervous breakdowns. Obviously, there can be no proof of this position any more than you can prove that they're due to divine influence. I'd really like to see your argument that religious experiences prove the existence of the divine. Why do you think it's impossible for the human mind/brain to come up with this stuff on its own?

I think you're also mistaken, as is Meta, about the skeptical frame of mind. The skeptical frame of mind says that if you're going to make an argument, then any assertions you make need to be back up either with studies or logic. That is not the case in the decision making paradigm that is at the heart of our conversation.
I don't think that is what the skeptical frame is about, because it deny any logic and any studies. These studies I speak of have been belittled in every concieveable way by atheists on every board upon which I've discussed them. But sure there is a difference in argument and in the raw empirical data of an existential encounter. I did not go read studies or do vin diagrams before having my experiences. But I would not try to turn them into an argument without that.

You're also assuming that I don't think that peak experiences happen. That's incorrect. I believe that they do. But I'm not willing to automatically ascribe a divine origin to them.


I don't either

Meta asserts divinity as the source. I assert that it is capacity of humans to imagine the infinite. Meta looks to Ground of Being. I look to humanity.

yes, but I don't automatically do so. I do so after reading 300 studies. or reading about 300 studies. These experiences are a lot more just imagining the infinite. ti's not just an imagination it's the effects of an experince.
Also, your Chesterton quote is incredibly short sighted. As a materialist, I make no claim to understanding everything. Even as we gain knowledge, the number of questions do not decrease. As a materialist, I have no problem standing under a clear night sky and marvelling at all that is out there. Or contemplating the intricacies of the quantum model and getting lost in the wonder of the details. And I believe that I have a purpose, that being to impact the people around me in as positive a way as I can. I strongly suspect that you and I (and many others on this forum) share that particular purpose. What I (and other atheists) don't need is an external being to provide that purpose. I have no problem generating and living to fulfill that purpose on my own. And it surprises me (and saddens me as well) that theists see this ability as a weakness and not a strength.

but you are an unusually open minded skeptic. and smarter than the avareage bear. :D[/quote]

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