Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 9, 2013

Animist on Atheism

Animism is the belief that the world is full of spirits. Atheism is the rejection of belief in gods. These beliefs are not opposed according to their bare definitions, but I know of no atheists who really get excited about the spirit world.

Atheism in the West is heavily shaped by Christianity, or more precisely, by rejecting Christianity. An ultra-brief history of Christian thought could begin with the Gnostics, part of the cultish religious soup in and around the ancient Holy Land, who saw their world as a miserable material prison to be escaped through ecstatic travels. The medieval Church kept the idea of this world as a material prison, but dropped the possibility of escaping through ecstasy. It urged followers to believe in a spirit world that could not be seen, except by the dead and resurrected or a few chosen prophets. People had to listen to their priest and trust in received wisdom, or actually risk being tortured and burned as a heretic. Early moves towards skepticism included demanding to be allowed to read the Bible for oneself, cutting out a major priestly privilege!

Atheists (and Deists, their close intellectual cousins) said: “Enough of this crap! We won’t believe in the Invisible Man in the Sky who watches us all the time anymore! It’s very manipulative and we call ‘shenanigans’ upon thee!” So, freethinkers shifted their attention to the world of things they could find out for themselves — reason, history, and especially science. Any hint of the spirit world was regarded as the same sort of superstition as Churchly lies. The spiritual practices of “savages” were beneath contempt, of more interest to edgy bohemians than serious scientists or philosophers, and were not seriously looked at in the West for a few hundred more years.

So, in animism, the spirit world is present right here in nature. In mainstream Christianity, the spirit world has been ripped away from the present world and hidden behind a veil, as for the priests to communicate to the helpless peasants. And in atheism, the spirit world has been denied existence entirely.

The atheist denial of natural spirits is based on an error, the belief that the spirit world is basically a lie communicated to the people by priests. For most people over most of human time, the spirit world was much more directly accessible.

On an everyday level, people were trained to rely on their instinct or “see with the heart.” Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, describes it thus: “I spent much of my childhood in a third-world, rural environment where we had to be in tune with Mother Nature for our very survival… To be instinctual means to be clearheaded, open, and aware of the signals we are getting from other people, animals, and our environment all the time. It means understanding our natural selves and the natural world, and acknowledging our interdependence with that world.” (from “Be the Pack Leader.”)

To a little child, the world is a colorful place imbued with meaning. This tree is sinister, that one is welcoming, still another is powerful and proud. I believe that these impressions are devalued by the education process, until the student a) comes to see trees as collections of cells and organs described by a Latin binomial, of interest as a sort of ongoing biochemical reaction or b) loses interest and stays inside watching football. The animist myths of trees as plant teachers and homes for forest spirits express the more important truths. Ignoring the truth about trees causes us to build ugly places — perhaps best embodied by Tolkein’s Mordor. (By the way — plenty of atheists appreciate and protect the trees, and plenty of ugly-minded deforesters call themselves Christian.) I happen to believe that the most powerful human-tree bond is on a level we truly experience as magical — an exchange of ill-defined “energy.” On what evidence should anyone reject that magical level of bonding? To what end?

 

A giant tree surrounded by fences.

Really ancient trees still inspire reverence from people of all beliefs. Mary and Angus Hogg [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A stubbly, muddy field stretches everywhere in sight.

Do the opencast miners need a more advanced science to explain to them where they went wrong? by Texas Radio and The Big Beat [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Opening up our senses to the magical seems like a wise move, if Sauron is not to win.

Since the middle of last century, the West has exploded with information about ecstatic technologies that permit direct experience of the spiritual world, often in full Technicolor. Albert Hoffman discovered LSD-25 in 1938, and it was soon being used in psychiatry to accelerate insight, healing and development in therapeutic clients. This very nearly coincided with Richard Shultes’ first trips to Mexico to identify the shamans’ magical plants and fungi (psilocybe mushrooms, morning glories and solanaceous trumpet flowers.) Shultes sent Hofmann morning glory samples for analysis, and Hofmann discovered LSD analogs in the seeds. They realized that indigenous shamanism had a lot in common with the cutting edge of psychiatric practice. Psychedelic drugs are not for everyone, and they are the subject of a mostly secular but authoritarian backlash, but they are not the only technology of ecstasy. Mind science imported from Buddhist and yogic traditions was popularized throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Music took on longer forms to allow the listeners to “get into it,” and incorporated trippy light shows. You don’t have to listen to your priest interpret Ezekiel’s vision of a wheel for you any longer: people can experience the other world for themselves, the paths are known.

In rejecting a phony or insanely corrupted spiritual tradition, many freethinkers found themselves cast to philosophies like materialism and positivism. Many Christians box up their religion except for Sundays and live in the same soulectomied world. These philosophies are insufficient — they do not feed the instinctual side of human nature. We find ourselves a bunch of neurotics living in ugly places. But there was never any reason to stop developing knowledge of the magical worlds of our childhood. Use your reasoning capacity, but remember where we all started from.

 

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August 24, 2012

Carryin’ On the Cosmic Struggle

The universe doesn’t suck, people don’t suck. People who want to control the universe, suck.

In this video, pompously entitled “Humanity’s Greatest Secret,” Alex Jones preaches on ultimate meanings with way more insight than I’d have credited him with. His mythology speaks to my recent interest in balancing wonder and curiosity with the need to keep an eye on the dangerous and disgusting. For Alex Jones, the evilness is totally embodied in the globalists and their various plans for New World Orders. If that’s not your worldview, relax, it can’t be that hard to imagine it for twenty minutes. You already know of about a million instances where power corrupted…

“Humanity’s Greatest Secret” puts the struggle for the control or freedom of humanity onto a grand and magnificent scale, as in the Wrinkle in Time or His Dark Materials series-es. Don’t let the Spectres or Echthroi take you, friends…

“I’m merely an ant in a great colony,” cried the human being. But you are special: you are the universe having a lucid dream, pretty much. It took a lot of “Creation” to get to this point. You therefor deserve some respect (NOT to be treated as an unwitting experimental subject, a member of an unwanted caste, a draftee in a war of aggression, or any of that other bullshit the great Masters of the Universe do to us. Nor to take shit from anyone else.)

Next post, I swear I will just make pickles or something. Things are literally taking their time to ferment or ripen around here, so I will report back when I’ve learned something sufficiently interesting!

April 4, 2012

Intelligent Design is Apparently True

Filed under: science — Tags: , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:18 pm

The theory of Intelligent Design is very annoying to mainstream science and its supporters. The theory posits that life on Earth was designed by God (or space aliens), rather than evolving through many iterations of natural selection. I.D. supporters usually point to some complex structure like the human eye or a ribosome and say, “This must be the work of a designer, because it won’t work without all the parts. I can’t imagine, and you can’t either, how such a thing gradually came to be, so evolution is not the valid theory to apply here.”

There’s something very unsporting about cutting down evolution’s explanatory power, and offering nothing in return except the insinuation that God did it. God can do anything; God can make monkeys fly out of my butt; God can make time run backwards and explosions unburst back into grenade shells; God could’ve made the world any old way He wanted to, and is known to work in mysterious ways, so what does it really tell us to know that God did it?

I looked around for some I.D. predictions, in case these might actually exist. According to ideacenter.org, besides the non-prediction of “irreducible complexity,” there should be “rapid appearance of complexity in the fossil record,” “re-usage of similar parts in different organisms” and “function for biological structure.” To spin hypotheses in the I.D. fashion, you watch how people  design things. Then, you presume that the engineer of life on Earth works in a broadly similar way.

“Rapid appearance of complexity in the fossil record” is an interesting prediction. If someone were tinkering with life on Earth all along, they might sometimes turn out a really novel batch of organisms in a short time. Unfortunately for I.D., this prediction is also part of conventional evolutionary theory, what is called “punctuated equilibrium.” Punctuated equilibrium holds that life on Earth get into stable grooves for thousands or millions of years, until perturbed by a meteor strike or whatnot, when life will suddenly evolve into different, sometimes more complex forms. Complexity does  rapidly burst into the fossil record (Cambrian explosion, the dawn of flowering plants), but that fact supports I.D. and evolution about equally.

“Re-usage of similar parts” suffers from the same basic problem. Similar parts evolve in different organisms because they employ similar strategies to survive, a phenomenon recognized as “convergent evolution.” It is  pretty freaky to recognize that an octopus, more closely related to a clam than a man, has eyes just like ours (iris, lens, humor, retina). Well, an octopus has a much more active lifestyle than a clam. All of the fine details are different, anyways (no land animals have rectangular pupils, for one thing.) Sometimes genetic similarities are found in disparate species. I think that that is evidence of genes moving about by means other than sex, such as viruses. If conventional biology does a piss-poor job of explaining these things in the future, that will give a little credibility to I.D. — Someone keeps using the same building blocks in all His designs.

The last prediction on Ideacenter’s list is “function for biological structure.” I think that this is a great prediction for digging into the philosophical issues around evolution and I.D. There are a few little biological structures with no function — the eyes of cave fish, the xiphoid process below your breastbone that can only break off and harm you. Possibly, a lot of DNA is junk. But, overwhelmingly, when you look at living organisms what impresses you is the functionality of the parts: the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone with ligament, tendon and muscle all arranged in a complex way, such that people look at it and say, “why, the knee’s purpose is to allow you to walk.” References to evolution are somewhat rare in my Physiology textbook, being reserved for broader, more reflective essays or explaining weird glitches in the human body. On the other hand, the book freely talks about the “function” of the kidneys, heart, liver and so on just as if it were describing the parts of a machine.  Do things have a function if they lack a designer? What is the function of a lump of granite or a cloud?

In the apparent world, living things grow according to designs. Saying that leaves were designed to collect the sunlight is no more wrong than saying that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West (when really, the Earth is rotating and the Sun is practically still). In fact, for the first several hundred years, when science was called “natural philosophy,” everyone was operating under the assumption that God had indeed designed the world. The whole point of natural philosophy was to better understand God’s design — the practical results were mere side effects until science was melded to capitalism and power.

Intelligent Design is looking to return to that noble, if outdated, philosophy. When I.D. proponents point to apparent design and function in the natural world, it is really there… just as the world really appears flat when my horizon is blocked out by trees and buildings. And for many, many purposes, I really can work from the theory that the Earth is flat (as when using a level).

If Intelligent Design is rejecting Darwinian explanations in favor of a traditional, really pre-scientific view, it is what you call a “null hypothesis.” The null hypothesis says that nothing interesting is going on: eggs aren’t good for your cholesterol, they’re not bad for your cholesterol. Until someone proves that eggs really are good or bad for cholesterol levels, everyone should assume the null hypothesis. This accounts for I.D.’s lack of interesting predictions: it’s essentially a rejection of Darwinism and an acceptance of traditional beliefs and apparent reality, a default position to fall back on, although it’s struggling to become its own distinct scientific theory.

I just sharpened my own philosophy of science by considering the evolving position of Intelligent Design. Can our schools encourage students to question science, and discuss it, and imagine things from another point of view? Or must students accept the word of the High Priests of Curriculum?

I fear that we really can’t discuss evolution vs I.D. in a typical K-12 school. All anyone knows is one line of propaganda or the other, so that would surely be a discussion with zero brain engagement and maximum noise.

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