Friday, March 30, 2012

The Cult of Quantum Physics

There is a growing religious movement spawned by an unlikely source; a quantum physicist.  At its forefront is a man who calls himself a "quantum activist" by the name of Dr. Amit Goswami.

Dr. Goswami grew up in India as the son of  a brahmán priest.  He turned his back on pursuing the traditional priesthood, instead choosing the path of science.  Yet eventually that scientific path would render him to be a priest of a different kind.

I stumbled upon Dr. Goswami through a couple documentaries, "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" (which was part very quirky film/part documentary, and contained reference to a few disputed scientific studies) and "The Quantum Activist" (which was mostly compiled clips of Dr. Goswani speaking).

(I'm essentially a n00b to quantum physics, so I apologize in advance for errors in the following discussion.)

There is a curious phenomenon in quantum physics known as the observer effect, or as they sometimes put it: "consciousness causes collapse."  It works like this: unobserved matter is potentially in X number of possible states, but when there is a conscious observer, the matter gets locked into one particular state.  Such a situation is quite a paradox for materialists.  How can mere observation change matter?

Dr. Goswami, who literally wrote the textbook on Quantum Mechanics which is widely used in colleges, has come up with an interesting solution to that paradox:  "Consciousness is the ground of Being."  Or to put it another way, we live in a consciousness-based reality, not a material-based reality.  The material manifestations around us are simply "collapsed consciousness;" conscious possibilities which have been locked into a particular state by an observing consciousness.

Dr. Goswani's position is not without its skeptics, some predating the doctor himself.  One of the most famous objections (if anything within quantum physics can be considered "famous!") is Schrödinger's cat.  In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment in which a cat in a box would live or die based off of the unobserved radioactive decay of an element, thereby implying that the requirement of an observer to lock in a state of matter (in this case, the spontaneous decay of one particular atom) is in some cases, if not all cases, illusory.

Yet Dr. Goswani sidesteps such criticisms by appealing to the cosmic consciousness, non-localized consciousness, or quantum consciousness.  This, he identifies as being one and the same with the mystic concept of God; that God is everything, although he suggests that you don't have to consider such a non-localized, quantum consciousness as God.  Certainly, this God is not a rule-giving, judgement making, and salvation-providing deity.  No, this God is the supple undercurrent of consciousness which provides the basis for all forms of collapsed consciousness, and maintains the interconnectedness of all things outside of space and time.

At least one reproducible experiment seems to support this interconnected, non-localized consciousness.  The set up is this:  Two people meditate in the same room with the intent of trying to connect with one another through their mediation.  After twenty minutes, these two people are then moved into two different rooms, each inside their own Faraday cages to shield electromagnetic communications.  The two people are rigged up to EEG processors to measure brain activity, and then told to mediate again.  Then, one of the test subjects is stimulated with light pulses, which evokes a reaction on the EEG.  The freaky thing is that the other test subject, who was not subjected to the light pulse, exhibited a very similar EEG evocation in both amplitude and phase to the one exhibited by the person who did receive the light pulse.  Control subjects who didn't meditate on each other didn't experience this sympathetic evocation.

So how is it possible that two people meditating on one another could transmit signals to each other, despite being in different locations and being shielded from one another?  Well, Faraday cages can't block out all electromagnetic influences, and there is always the chance that the EEG's themselves, combined with the electrical wiring, served as antenna, of sorts, to transmit that signal.  Yet that does not fully explain everything.  After all, why did meditation make the difference versus the control subjects?  Something connected these two people who had meditated.  Dr. Goswami posits that it is the quantum consciousness which has linked them together.

If we can influence this non-localized consciousness with our own thoughts, then it would seem that we could potentially seize the possibilities, and make manifest any reality we choose.  However, Dr. Goswami suggests that a little humility may be in order.  This quantum consciousness is larger than any of our single consciousnesses, and is subject to the influence of everyone else around.  In most of life, you will have to yield to the quantum consciousness more than it will yield to you.  Yet if groups of people begin to intently focus their consciousness from the level of meditation, as opposed to doing so at the level of ego or rational desires, it may be possible to tap into that quantum consciousness to really make the world a better place.

I have many issues with some of Dr. Goswami's quantum philosophy, including my own prejudices, but I reserve final judgement for now.  Even though the concept of quantum mechanics has been around for well over a century, it is still a burgeoning field, in my opinion.  In no small part, the difficulty lies in dealing with a scale which is only on the fringes of observability.  I compare it to trying to fully develop the Germ Theory of Disease without a microscope.  It's not that it is impossible to make meaningful discoveries or theories based on the observations, but I think that we must temper them as conjectures based on incomplete data.  Beyond that, at least at my present understanding, it seems that the doctor makes several quantum leaps of faith in connecting the dots to develop his philosophy.

Yet I can't deny that Dr. Goswami theories are enticing to ponder, and they do provide some interesting solutions to problems, such as the mind-brain interface.  Dr. Goswani's "cult" following may, in time, prove to be completely justified.  It would be fascinating to discover that science confirms the ideas which mystics have been telling us for several millenniums.  Truth is often stranger than fiction.

For additional information besides the Wikipedia link above, check out Dr. Goswami's website.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Residual Christianity and Your Self

Who are you?  On the surface, that's an easy question to answer, but the truth is far more complex once you start to examine yourself.  In fact, the more you examine yourself, the more likely you are to figure out that you do not have a true, singular "self" in the traditional sense of the word.

(If this is somewhat of a new concept to you, Sabio Lantz made an excellent post regarding our many selves which will be a good primer.  Also, note that I'm not a psychologist.  So believe me at your own peril, and chastise me at your will.  Thanks!)

It's not that you have multiple selves either; at least not discrete selves which can be easily segregated from one another.  They often bump, overlap, and conjoin each other.

You may object, because if these selves can't be segregated, then can't we say that there is a singular self?  Such an objection has some validity, but only if we broaden the definition of self to be on the fringes of an incoherent, dissonant mess of an identity.  Ironically, thinking in terms of having many selves is an intuitively useful tool of understanding your own full identity.  At least, part of me thinks that.  ;-)

Just ask yourself (metaphorically speaking) if you've ever had a difficult time trying to make a major decision in your life.  The pros and cons you came up with may very well have represented competing desires sourced from different selves (or if I could coin a term; self-concepts).  A classic example from our times is trying to decide between career versus family interests.

Even in superficial matters, multiple self-concepts is so intuitive that Kellog's ran a commercial in 1988 for Frosted Mini-Wheats where various adults spoke about the wholesome goodness of the mini-wheats, which then cut to children in the same adult clothing expressing that "the kid in me" liked the delicious frosting.

With this complex interrelation of self-concepts, when there is a major change in one of those self-concepts, it can have ripple effects across your other self-concepts, and your other self-concepts can strive to frustrate those changes.

How about an example for clarification?  Divorce.  If you are divorced, or know someone who became divorced while you knew them, you may know exactly what this means.  Being a husband or a wife is far from being a single-dimensional role.  It permeates so many different factors in your life; everything from where you'll choose to live, to where you'll travel, to what risks you are willing to take, to what food you'll eat, etc.

Then comes the threat of divorce.  Your adventurer self-concept may revel in the opportunity which will be afforded after you get free from the "ball and chain" of your spouse.  Yet your nest-building, home-making self-concept may panic at the thought of losing both the support and stability provided by your spouse and the future you had planned together, so you consider trying to mend the divide between you, despite whatever serious issues may be driving you apart.  And so on.  And so on.

More importantly to our topic here, however, is that these types of deep self-concept changes can have residual effects, both pleasant and unpleasant.  Continuing with the example, a year after the divorce is final, perhaps you may find yourself standing on a mountaintop, and the thought hits you, "if I was still married, I wouldn't be here today, having climbed to this glorious peak."  Later, you may find yourself dining at a restaurant, drinking a glass of wine alone, where, seated at a table across from you, is a darling elderly couple, still delighting in each other's company after all these years, and you think "That could have been us.  That should have been us."  Your one "self," appreciating what is, yet grieving for what was; tying both perspectives back to the former state of marriage.  Despite the change which has occurred, there is a residual self-concept of a married person within you, and many of your other self-concepts are influenced by and compared against that residual concept.

As we've seen, being married encompasses much more than simply saying "I do," and, ahem, consummation.  It intermingles with your beliefs, your plans, and your several aspects of your identity.  Similarly, but on a much larger scale, being a Christian involves much more than simply believing that Jesus died for your sins.  It is a world view which exerts influence over many of your competing and coexisting self-concepts.

Some examples of crossover influences are:  Your career-minded self-concept may come to understand the transient nature of all human achievement, and in turn you may discard or re-prioritize that self-concept, or even change its focus to seeking achievement for God.  Your parenting self-concept may also change priorities and delights, from trying to raise a robustly healthy child, to focusing on introducing your child to the love of Christ and delight in sharing the glory of God.  (This is not to imply that it must be either-or relationship, just to establish priorities, understanding that those priorities affect the choices we make.) And so on.  And so on.  In this way, we can see that when you are a Christian, your Christian self-concept touches on many other self-concepts. 

Deconversion from Christianity is not an instantaneous matter.  It may be an instant of emotional epiphany or the fruition of careful study which changes your belief of whether or not Jesus died for your sins, but discarding that surface belief and the associated label is far easier than actually discarding your Christianity.  Similar to the situation of divorce noted above, a residual Christian self-concept lingers behind.  Some parts of that self-concept can change almost automatically, like no longer thinking that Jesus may be showing up at any moment, and no longer treating a minister with more respect than you would anyone else.  However, much of it will remain unchanged, such as the way that you may still identify that there is a transient nature to all human achievement, and the way that the beautiful essence of a favorite Christmas carol may still pull at your heart-strings.  Your residual Christian self-concept will still long for the wondrous fantasies the myth provides, such as the hope of reuniting with your lost loved ones in the hereafter.

For some who lose their faith, aspects of that residual Christian self-concept can be enticing enough to lure them back to the faith after the initial chaos of the loss of faith settles down, in much the same way that sometimes divorced couples decide to get back together.

For others who lose their Christian faith, they will never go back, but their residual Christian self-concept endures regardless.  So the question becomes how do you deal with that?  The right answer for you probably depends a lot on your individual experience and temperament.  Here are some of those answers:

  1. One way that some people deal with it is through a "rebound faith," just like a rebound relationship after a breakup or divorce.  They'll renounce Christianity only to trade it for a different faith, like Islam or Buddhism.  To some extent, this can drown out the cries from the residual Christian self-concept, but, like a rebound relationship, it only goes so far.  Plus, you may be creating another persistent self-concept to lug around with you the rest of your days!
  2. Others make take up another faith in earnest.  Valuing the spiritual experiences felt in Christianity, they may focus their spiritual journey on another faith in a different sense than being a mere rebound.  I would guess that some subset of these people take the path of Universalism.  This approach can help modify the Christian self-concept into something more loving, open, and generalized, such that I suspect those who take this path have no issue with their residual Christian.  (Ironically, there are a few relatively modern Christian denominations which have taken on a Univeralist slant, claiming that Jesus is not the only way to Salvation.)  Another subset may delve more into the notion of Gnosticism.
  3. Still others trade causes, swapping evangelizing for politics, or for equality rights, or for their careers, etc.  Similar to the faith trades mentioned above, this can be a simple attempt at substitution and suppression, or this can be an earnest pursuit which is afforded now with the time freed from worship and/or the release of Christian social mores.  In either case, this does little to address the residual Christian self-concept other than to distract you from it for some time.
  4. Others may do nothing at all regarding their residual Christian self-concept.  This can be is a very difficult path to take.  With the Christian self-concept permeating so many other self-concepts, the echos of that former life will persist seemingly ad infinitum.  Only time and the diversion of thought from this self-concept serve to gradually lessen its affects.
  5. Finally, and what I believe may be the best approach, others choose to tackle their Christian self-concept through a process of demystification.  It involves introspection, flipping from a concentration on what you believed to a study on why you believed it.  I'm not talking about the banal mechanics of how you came to be a Christian, such as your parents bringing you up to be a Christian.  I'm referring to examining why you wanted to believe in Christianity; the social aspects, the hope for justice, your emotional connection to Jesus' story, etc.  The process also involves extrospection, observing and learning from others how they are affected by similar themes, and why they believe in their religions.

    The fruit of such contemplation is a deeper understanding of yourself and your fellow humans.  You can appreciate the beauty of faith and simultaneously see its darker paths.  You can ascertain the attraction of the myths, and appropriately put them in their place as such.  With such understanding, the residual Christian self-concept can be elegantly relegated to being a phase in your life's journey, like that of your childhood or your first love.

    The Christian self-concept will remain, bubbling up occasional remembrances, but you can behold them in a similar fashion to the gripping storyline of a good book or movie, yet with a richness of personal experience of having played a role in that story.
Realize that these paths may be combined, each handling some aspects of the residual Christian self-concept.  Most importantly, realize that these paths really represent processes, not instant answers.  It takes time to sort through your own complexities.  So get comfortable, and enjoy the trip of self(-concept) discovery.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I'm a Christian Leader!

It's true!  I'm a Christian Leader!  Check this out:

This screen shot is from a web site which is obviously filled by an automatic content generator; i.e. an aggregator.  These sites spring up with a given algorithm, and then try to make money off of adds on the site.  The two ads you do see link to similar aggregation sites, so I'm guessing that they are from the same web coding author.

As I've explored in some studies on my other blog, when you aggregate in a haphazard manner, like Matthew did, it kind of hurts your credibility.

By the way, check out the tags on this site:  dogs?  Really?  What does that have to do with anything here?  :-)

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Bachelor, and Jesus

Looking for a laugh today?  Follow this news link to about a woman who captured the image of Jesus praying while on her television while she was watching The Bachelor.  You'll be glad you did, especially if you can come up with a character voice for her in your head.  Happy Friday!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

From Apocalypse to Spin Cycle

You remember when people started disappearing on May 21, 2011 for the Rapture, right?  Or how about when God divided all of us as either sheep or goats, as either the citizens of Heaven or the denizens of Hell, back on October 21, 2011?  These were the prophetic dates given by Harold Camping, the leader of a Christian ministry which is broadcast through Family Radio.

Prior to these dates, Camping explained how God had given us many infallible(!) proofs from His word that those days would be the markers of the ends of human history as we know it.  When May 21 came and went without any divinely driven exodus, Camping admitted that he didn't know why there was no Rapture, expressed that it was God's prerogative to alter plans as He saw fit, and held fast to the October 21 date as being Judgement Day.  Then October 21 passed into history like any other day...

From that failed prophesy, there are essentially only two paths such a believer can go down:

One path is to renounce the faith completely.  If the proofs of the prophetic dates were infallible and Bible based, then obviously the Bible is wrong.  If the Bible is wrong, then faith in the Bible is not justified.  Psychologically speaking, this is an extremely difficult path.  It involves admitting you are wrong, admitting that you were fooled, and admitting that you have wasted time, money, and effort on something that had false value.

The other path is similar to the first, but different in a critical way, and that makes all the difference in preference of the options.  If you don't renounce the faith, you still can't avoid admitting that you were wrong and that you had been fooled.  Harold Camping has come to terms with this, and posted an open letter on the Family Radio website this month (it took a while to come to terms, obviously) stating among other things:

"... In Romans 3:4 God declares: "Let God be true but every man a liar." Events within the last year have proven that no man can be fully trusted. Even the most sincere and zealous of us can be mistaken. 
We must also openly acknowledge that we have no new evidence pointing to another date for the end of the world. Though many dates are circulating, Family Radio has no interest in even considering another date. God has humbled us through the events of May 21, to continue to even more fervently search the Scriptures (the Bible), not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding. 
We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and He will end time in His time, not ours!"
So you see the humble recognition that Camping had gotten it all wrong, trusting more in the wisdom of himself than the wisdom of God.  He is OK with being wrong, because that is the lot of all humanity.  He has also learned his lesson, and will not be claiming any new dates for the End.

But that's not all that he said.  By choosing this path, he did not have to admit that he had wasted time, money, and effort on something that had false value.  In fact, he is quite certain that it did have value:

"Yes, we humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing; yet though we were wrong God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way.
Yet this incorrect and sinful statement allowed God to get the attention of a great many people who otherwise would not have paid attention. Even as God used sinful Balaam to accomplish His purposes, so He used our sin to accomplish His purpose of making the whole world acquainted with the Bible."

And so you see how even the most grand of follies is "spun" into an affirmation; both of the awesome power of God, and of the fact that their precious resources were not wasted.  The misguided believer humbles himself only to pat himself on the back for playing his part faithfully in God's master plan.

I've seen the same patterns of self-deception played out on lesser scales time and time again.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Jephthah's (Jehovah's Witness) Daughther

There are things I respect about the Jehovah's Witnesses (JW's):  they generally seem more devoted to studying the Bible than other Christians, they don't celebrate Christmas or Easter because of their pagan origins, and, in my limited dealings with them, they seem friendly and are family and community oriented.  Then there are other things about them which are not respectable (outside of the sense that sincere adherence to a faith is respectable), such as the rejection of blood transfusions.

Another thing I can't respect is the blatant manipulation of Biblical text, which, of course, the JW's aren't the only Christians to do so.  But one particular manipulation caught my eye recently.  In the December 2011 issue of The Watchtower (OK, not that recently), there was an article on page 27 entitled "I Wanted to be Like Jephthah's Daughter."  I was stunned!

For those of you not familiar with the story, you'll find it in Judges 11:28-40.  It goes like this:  Jephthah, with the "Spirit of the Lord" and about to do battle with the Ammonites, promised God that if He would grant him a victory in that battle, he would make a burnt offering sacrifice of the first thing that come out of his home to greet him upon his return.  Jephthah won the battle.  As he returned home, his only child, his virgin daughter, came dancing out to meet him.  Jephthah was devastated to see her.  He tore his clothes and wept because of that vow he made to God.  His daughter told her father to fulfill his vow, but to give her two months to mourn the fact that she had never married.  So he gave her those two months, and then "he did to her as he had vowed."

To me, Jephthah's daughter portrays a pious willingness to fulfill a vow made to God at any cost, even if that cost is your own life.  I can understand a sense of the nobility of such an action, even if the act of Jephthah sacrificing his daughter itself represents the epitome of what is wrong with religion.  But that's not the angle Joanna Soans, the author of that article, went with.  She said:
"As you may have read in the Bible, Jephthah's daughter, when apparently only a teenager, agreed not to marry.  This made it possible for her father to fulfill a vow he had made.  So she served as a single woman at Jehovah's house, or tabernacle, for the rest of her life."
This is such a bastardization of the Scripture, it boggles the mind.  Check out Judges 11:31 in the lexicon, where Jephthah makes the promise of a burnt offering.  It is the kind of human sacrifice permitted by God's Law in Leviticus 27:28-29.

The JW's aren't alone in this interpretation.  Since around the 18th century, a minority of scholars have tried to argue the case being made by the JW's.  Yet this just emphasizes the point.  This is a relatively modern take, because the modern sensitivities found the idea of sacrificing a child to God as being unsavory to the point of needing to find an alternative interpretation for what stood unquestioned for centuries.  This represents the religious scholars trying to adapt their faith to keep it relevant to their own perspectives.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Popularity of the Books of the Bible

I have a confession to make:  I love data, numbers, and charts.  Yes, I am a geek, and I'm OK with that.

One of the byproducts of blogging is that you get statistics; site visits, page views, etc.  One of the byproducts of my having posted chapter-by-chapter Bible book summaries of the Old Testament is that I now have a sense of how popular the individual books are.

Peruse this chart, and meet me below for a clarification and some observations.

First, a clarification:  This data is a skewed towards the earlier books in the Bible by time.  I posted the summaries roughly as I finished them, so Genesis through 2 Kings were posted almost three years prior to Jonah through Malachi, the latter of which were only published a little over half a year ago.  So keep that in mind.  This may become a yearly post to see how things change as that time factor wanes.

It's no surprise that Genesis is the most popular, right?  But I do find it surprising that it is more than five times more popular than Exodus, which contains the eponymous Exodus, and the Ten Commandments.  Even more surprising is that Leviticus, with its rules about sacrifice and its list of laws, is over twice as popular as Exodus.

Another surprise was the bias towards the books which focused on females; Ruth and Esther.  The small, fairly insignificant book of Ruth was more popular than Numbers, with its story of the staff with the bronze snakes being raised allegedly like Jesus.  Ruth was more popular than the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, which contain the promise of an eternal kingdom to David's lineage, among other things.  Ruth is more popular than any of the books of the prophets, except for Jeremiah, which it closely rivals.  The story of Ruth is sometimes used as an example of character for women to follow, so this probably accounts for some of that popularity.

However, Esther was even more popular, beating out Exodus, Deuteronomy, and even Job.  The book of Esther does contain a great story about a woman, Esther, who went from from being a harem girl to being a queen, and eventually helping to save her own Jewish race.  However, that is not why Esther was so popular.  Most of the hits came from a search for "beauty secrets in the book of Esther."  My guess is that some slightly Biblically-literate charlatan is hawking a book or skin care products which provoked this search thread.

I was happy to see that one of my favorite books, Ecclesiastes, was very popular.

However, I was disappointed to see a fairly paltry interest in the books of the prophets.  Those are the books which tell you what the Jewish prophesy was really about.  They are the very resources people should be consulting to see if this Jesus story really adds up.  Allegedly, Jesus, Himself, spent a bit of time pointing out these prophesies, such as regarding Elijah coming beforehand, which is found in Malachi.  Yet Malachi has barely a hint of interest.  It seems to suggest that the semi-popular mantra of the faithful is ringing through:  "Jesus said it.  I believe it.  That settles it."

There are, of course, many factors affecting these results, such as what other resources are available and familiarity.  So we should not read too much into these numbers.  Yet it does seem to be at least a quick glimpse into the inquisitive nature of the Christian believer.