Monday, March 14, 2011

David Brooks & atheism

David Brooks on things spiritual--March 11
I’m intrigued by a trend in our society that no one else has noted. Stories about religion losing ground flourish in the media, but has anyone else noticed a concurrent rise of interest in things spiritual? Religious and moral disagreements—often called “social issues”—as well as deeper questions concerning spiritual reality also fill the media.

Ironically, one signal of the rising interest in spirituality is louder sounds coming from atheists. How so? I’ll repeat what I’ve said often—atheists become atheists BECAUSE their spiritual integrity is offended by the flaws, foolishness, and outright corruption in religions. Atheists today force spiritual discourse past religions, past specific, narrow beliefs to a more inclusive, more eclectic, generic and secular spirituality.

The latest development exciting me is a new book, The Social Animal, by David Brooks. No one better typifies the American secular and intellectual culture that is emotionally distant from religions and spirituality. In fact, Brooks gets a laugh by repeating his wife’s comment that David writing about emotion is like Gandhi writing about gluttony. He calls Washington, D.C., his home and main target of comment, “the most emotionally avoidant city in America.”

On the PBS Newshour, Brooks said,
We have a very shallow view of human nature in the policy world. We're really good at talking about material things, really bad at talking about emotions, really good at stuff we can count, really bad at the deeper stuff that actually drives behavior. . . .

Emotion is the basis of reason. We really have to trust our emotions, which are much smarter than our reason in some ways. . . . [We make decisions] on the basis of things we're not even aware of. . . .
The unconscious, not a common subject in policy disputes, figures prominently when Brooks talks about his book, for which he studied child development, sociology, neuroscience, and philosophy. He called it a “pretense” that we make decisions on the basis of what we rationally and logically think is right.
Interviewer Jeffrey Brown interjected,
But that means . . . going with your gut. It means some part of your unconscious is actually working real hard.
Brooks agreed and advised,
You have got to give your unconscious mind time to process. So, think about it. Study it. And then distract yourself. Take a nap. Go to sleep. Think about it the next day. And then go with your gut.
He also learned the value of relationships, of community, of the need to be understood by others. If the focus on relating doesn’t sound spiritual enough, how about this:
Our explanation of why we live the way we do is all on the surface. . . . It was part of my idea to go down, down, down to look at moral and spiritual creativity, the deepest issues.
Newsweek wrote that the word “deep” comes up a lot when Brooks talks about his book. Moving from surface and material concerns to “deeper stuff,” valuing human connections and feelings, mining the wisdom of the unconscious—all are ingredients in a recipe for spiritual renewal.

During the 1990s, I read a psychic prediction that the 21st century would focus on spiritual concerns. We are seeing the beginning of that.

**** A good comment came in on the previous post, one that disagrees with me. I intend to answer it later. I call it "good" because it gets at the heart of the "religion v. science" debate and exemplifies the reason I like to debate with atheists—they can think.
If secular guru David Brooks ever shared the beliefs of scientific materialists, he certainly changed his mind.

Answer to Atheist--March 14
I am always delighted when a thoughtful atheist engages me, as Will did in the comment to "Scientific materialism" below. This is the part I find significant:
. . . the scientific method can be the only judge of what is likely to be true or false and to claim that something is true that cannot be scrutinized by the scientific method is opens the door to all kinds of silliness.
First, we need to consider the difference between facts and truth. Scientists have proficiency in the realm of facts, but not in spiritual truth. We consult science for factual knowledge, but for wisdom we turn to spiritual seers, religious or non-religious, some of whom might be scientist/philosophers.

Knowledge belongs in the realm of scientists; wisdom belongs in the realm of spirit. It’s true that good is better than evil, but a scientist would have a hard time proving it. It’s true that literature awarded the Nobel prize has surpassing quality, but a scientist would have a hard time proving it. Truth, goodness, and beauty cannot be proven by science but certainly manifest in physical reality.
Abundant evidence of spiritual reality exists in plain sight in outer reality—the effects of thoughts and emotions, spiritual values, myths, dream memories, and paranormal phenomena. In their interpretation of these phenomena, scientific materialists express a belief I find preposterous—that material stuff generates spiritual reality.

Not only do these phenomena in the physical world show that spiritual reality exists, they demonstrate its autonomy. I have looked for but never found a credible explanation by materialists of precognitive dreams, of astonishing psychic accuracy (conveniently denied by skeptics), of scientists and other thinkers suddenly granted the answer to a question when they stop thinking intellectually, of writers and artists who depend on a “muse,” and of people nudged to an act that averts disaster.
A recent example of the last is the story of a woman getting into an elevator, then, because of a sudden thought, stepping back out before it left. The elevator cable broke, fell many stories to the ground, and killed all in it. What instigated the sudden thought that propelled her out of the elevator? Not the nerves and synapses in her brain. They merely manifested the thought generated by some spiritual agent. In these incidents, inner mind knows more than outer brain capacity.

Will believes that only the scientific method can judge what is true. The problem has been that spiritual reality did not easily lend itself to the scientific scrutiny that Will respects. When scientists try to measure paranormal phenomena, the results have been mixed because the intention of the skeptical scientist mixes with the intention of the believer. There was no way to avoid letting the consciousness of the skeptical scientist contaminate the result of the experiment. Until quantum physics emerged.

Quantum physics clearly demonstrates the agency of consciousness as the primary moving force, and consciousness is a spiritual element, not a material one. In each quantum experiment, the intention or decision of the scientist determines whether a particle or a wave will present. Our intentions, thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, decisions—our consciousness—create reality; they decide what form physical stuff will take. We don’t recognize this fact for two reasons: 1) because we are not aware of our INNER perceptions and beliefs (the unconscious), and 2) because our individual perceptions are mixed with those of everyone else.

As I grow older, I increase my recognition of and reliance on the Inner power of many names. It’s available to all.
*************************


Reply to atheists, March 19.
In the signed comments below, those by Will and Darren, I find ideas worth considering and agree with most of what they say. As I see it, we disagree on this fundamental point: I say spiritual reality generates material reality and they would say (correct me if I’m wrong) that material or physical reality generates spiritual reality.

Will, your last point, however, confuses me. We agree that spiritual qualities dwell within the individual and culture, but why did you say it doesn’t diminish us? Of course, it doesn’t diminish us; I believe it ennobles us, it’s the divinity in us.
Let me guess. Do you perhaps object to my “reliance on the Inner Power”? This may be another point of disagreement between us. I believe that the greater part of us, accessed through our unconscious, exists beyond our everyday thinking “I” or “you,” what is called the ego. It comes to our aid in the examples I give of “inner mind” knowing more than outer brain. I call it divine but it is not a god. I don’t believe in a divinity that's merely an individual great spirit separate from us; I believe in Divinity in all.

Darren, my dictionary gives this second definition for fact: “something having real, demonstrable evidence.” That corresponds to my use of it—something physically demonstrable or, to use Will’s phrase, what can be “scrutinized by the scientific method.” As a third definition of myth I find this: “a fictitious story, person, or thing.” And this corresponds to “myth” as used in our popular culture—a worthless lie.

But religious myths (the first definition in dictionaries) are perfectly honorable, despite their lack of factual content. God the Father and Son are mythical images, not facts. God is not a male individual who gave birth to another male individual without any female input. In the realm of facts, this literal belief is ridiculous, but as Christian mythology, it nurtured the Western world for two thousand years by assuring people of the truth that divine assistance always stands ready to guide us. Facts belong to science. The spiritual values of truth, beauty, and goodness are best expressed in imagery—metaphor, symbol, myth, and so on.

To sum up, fact and truth are not always synonymous. Regarding subjectivity, yes, it judges truth, beauty, and goodness in highly individual ways, but I respect the subjective in ways you apparently do not. The subject is too complicated, however, for me to tackle here.

Unsigned comments from “Cat’s Staff” contain negative, reactive emotion, which suggests that I could not have a conversation with the author. In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky I present a more thorough case, with sources, for my interpretation of quantum physics, but a hostile attitude will render it unacceptable in any case.

With atheist friends I have conversations in which we express strong and opposing convictions. I think I could have such a fruitful conversation with Will or Darren.

Cat’s staff commented (March 20),
@Jeanette: "...but as Christian mythology, it nurtured the Western world for two thousand years by assuring people of the truth that divine assistance always stands ready to guide us."

It guided us right into the dark ages for most of those two thousand years. How did it act any differently than any other mythology? It wasn't until the renesainse and the idea of empiricism came along that reason was able to save us from the 'nurturing'.

@Jeanette: "I think I could have such a fruitful conversation with Will or Darren. Good luck Will and Darren."

The fact that I'm psudoanonymous doesn't change the fact that you are the one making the claim that needs to be defended. I'm not making any claims from a position of authority (my identity doesn't matter if you don't need to verify my authority on a claim I'm making). It's up to you to show that your claims don't contradict the current understanding of quantum mechanics (and everything else we know about how the Universe works). If you could do that it wouldn't matter who you were, you could be compleatly anonymous. The evidence would stand on it's own...that's the beuaty of science.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeannette, you make a great many claims, most of which you provide absolutely no evidence for. It's typical of spiritualists to apply real science (see your claim about what quantum physics "obviously" shows) to their particular brand of emotional fluff.

Please, when you say these things, show your work. You'll continue to have followers and admirers by writing as you do, but so do Gl3nn B3ck and the pope. For those of us who consider doubt a virtue, you're not offering much.

Will said...

Jeanette,

Just to be clear, I still believe in and highly value all those things you describe as spiritual, all the human emotions and the qualities we see in the world like beauty, grace, connectedness etc.

It's just that I believe they dwell within the individual and we share them with each other due to human nature and our culture. I don't see that this in anyway diminishes them or us.

Will, Sauk Rapids.

Cat's Staff said...

You seem to want to 'engage' atheists, but you don't know the first thing about what they are thinking and you are using your own makity uppity language to describe things that only you, and people who think like you, can understand. Can you start by understanding some basic concepts that you are talking about...like what do you think quantum physics is? You toss the term around and use it to justify everything else. You seem to be using the mangled version of quantum physics that the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know" espouses. If you don't understand quantum physics, then how can you use it to explain anything.

Quantum physics deals with the natural world, not supernatural. There is nothing about it you can use to prove anything supernatural or spiritual exists, just like you can't use gravity or electromagnetism to prove the existence of the supernatural. You can't just appropriate and adulterate an established term to suit your needs. It's not just a stretch, it's completely wrong. Quantum physics lets you use your cell phone and your computer Nothing about it will help you read minds, see the future, alter reality, have a more fulfilling love life(unless your computer or your cell phone are involved), find a good parking spot, talk with the dead, read your pets minds, etc.

When you drop something it will fall at a rate of 32.2 ft/sec^2, no matter if you pray really hard, direct your vital energy at the object, or somehow petition the universe to alter the laws of nature for your personal pleasure. Quantum physics works the same way.

Atheists love honest debate, but you can't expect that anyone is going to want to engage you if you're running onto their playing field and then telling them that they have to change the rules to accommodate the way you think the game should be played. You can't redefine basic principles to accommodate your worldview.

Darren said...

I believe most dictionaries would say a 'fact' and a 'truth' are synonomous and rely upon each other to be defined. see:
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fact
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/truth

a FACT is true, and TRUTH conforms to facts.

As for the quality of something such as literature or pie, that is the realm of the SUBJECTIVE which has neither truth nor facts. As a result GOOD and BAD are subjective and there are no facts nor truths that will sway any argument of which is 'better'.