Question of the Week- Nov 4th

Nov 3, 2015

This week our question comes from Mike Lilian of Kakanui, New Zealand.

Mike asks “What part does addiction play in the human impulse to religion?”

Our favorite answer will win a copy of “An Appetite for Wonder” by Richard Dawkins.

118 comments on “Question of the Week- Nov 4th

  • I am not an addict myself, but I have a close family member who is one. What know from this situation is that while the addict is under the influence of their drug of choice, they feel a euphoric high that no amount of negativity can cut through. The drug is solving all problems and at the same time enhancing the beauty all around them. There is only one problem; what if they can’t get more when they need it? This is a fearful situation because the pain and frustration of life will hit them like a cement wall if they must exist without the chemicals they need to block it. All of the risks they face and the expense and the disgrace are overlooked so that they can exist for a few hours more in their false reality. If for some reason they are forced to face life without this reality blocker they will be psychologically crushed by the sad and scary realities of life that we non-addicts deal with on a daily basis. In the world of addiction, when an addict goes it alone and tries to stay straight with no comfort meds and no program to help them this is called “bare knuckling it”.

    In the atheist community I think we have our own sense of “bare knuckling” through the adversities of our life on this earth. I remember when I was a kid who believed in a God who loved me and who watched over my family members who were dead and in heaven beside him. I remember how comforting and beautiful that was back then. As I came to doubt that there was an all powerful being watching out for my best interests and as I saw more and more suffering by good people who didn’t deserve it, I felt a confrontation with reality that was rather unpleasant. Even now, when the going gets rough, I long for those days when I could have begged and pleaded with a magical benefactor who could make things right. No wonder the religiously deluded become frantic and lash out at those who would undermine their fantasy.

    This is what addicts and the religiously indoctrinated have in common. They seek to escape from the worst that life has to offer. One uses chemical substances to alter reality and the pious are under the influence of some powerful cognitive programming. The minute that reality starts to seep through the cracks – they have what they need to block it; a fix or a hail Mary will do.

    None of this comforts an atheist however. In times of trouble I can only look around to real people who are right next to me and now-a-days, to other atheists who have made themselves apparent (thanks for that!) and remind myself that with the experience I’ve gained from fifty years of problem solving, that I have become a substantially resilient person who can power through with the best of them and not retreat into a delusional utopia world where everything is pretty and perfect and ultimately false. I’m bare knuckling it and proud of that.

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  • This is an interesting question. I’m not sure. I know a lot of nonsense gets tossed around whenever addiction is brought up, and I don’t want to contribute to that too much. But, I’ll risk contributing a bit to mention what I think is an interesting, albeit obvious angle. If you look up addiction you’ll likely find in the definition something about continuing an activity despite negative consequences. The negative consequences for many people of abusing some drugs are obvious. However, at many of the points where we might imagine religious practice to be similar to addiction, we may actually see benefits for the religious rather than the usual harm that is associated with addiction.

    Of particular interest to me are those benefits/harms which are entirely down to culture. It’s also interesting to note how difficult it would be to present the religious with the harms
    of their beliefs given the real benefits of being religious in certain societies… and how much respect we should have for how difficult the task of engineering egalitarian societies is -pitfalls everywhere

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  • For me, the real threat is habit rather than addiction. It is easier to give up drugs if you no longer have the habit, the habit of the same surroundings or people you take drugs with. I smoked cigarettes for a couple of years into my twenties. Staying off them was easy as long as I stayed away from the clubs I used to smoke in. I never smoked at work during the day so no habit could kick in. As soon as I went out and had a drink in one hand then the cigarette was needed in the other. I do agree with LaurieB also that the drugs take you away from the real world. My eldest brother has taken every type of drug you can think of and has never been happy in the real world and has clashed with the family many times. His idea that a working family can afford to lend/give him money anytime he needs it and not have to worry about that months mortgage has always angered me.

    I can remember the first time I said “touch wood” and tapped the table top to ward of any pending doom. It ‘seemed’ to work and I felt myself getting drawn in not to temp fate and using the phrase more often. It became a habit I had to break. I still sometimes tap my own head as a visual symbol to wish someone luck when other times I dismiss luck if someone brings it up.

    Habits can arise through repetition. They are a normal part of life, and are often helpful. “We wake up every morning, shower, comb our hair or brush our teeth without being aware of it,” Volkow says. We can drive along familiar routes on mental auto-pilot without really thinking about the directions. “When behaviors become automatic, it gives us an advantage, because the brain does not have to use conscious thought to perform the activity,” Volkow says. This frees up our brains to focus on different things.

    Not going to church, if you are in the habit of going, brings a feeling of doom that something bad might happen. If by ‘chance’ something does go wrong then it re-enforces the prophecy.

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  • I don’t think addiction is the right description. In treating mental illness there is a practice called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Through repetitive exercises, new neural pathways are encouraged and neural networks associated with disease, like depression are reduced. It’s a form of brain plasticity. The same way practicing the violin or your golf swing lay down neural networks to support that activity.

    Commonsense really. The brain, for evolutionary reasons must be plastic, so that homo sapiens can get better at certain skills necessary for survival.

    But that very same property of the brain, plasticity, means that anything you repeat will receive an increase in neural networks to support that activity. Evolution doesn’t care if the activity is good for you or not. If you repeat it often enough, your brain will build networks to increase your ability to function in that area.

    Religion, is the ultimate brain plasticity exercise. From the moment a child can understand language, they are subjected to religious indoctrination. The phrase, wrongly attributed to the Jesuits, says it all. Give me the boy till 8, and I will give you the man. Basically brainwashing. Very hard to escape, as anyone who has tried Cognitive Behaviour Therapy will attest. So not an addiction. A plastic brain so molded to believe, that they can’t escape. The ultimate pyramid selling scheme.

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  • Speaking as a professional in the field (I am a cognitive psychologist), for some, a great deal, for example, for some a spiritual component to their recovery is very important, for example AA and some 12 step programs, for others the spiritual component is not important. In other words different strokes for different folks. One would never deny to those who are spiritually oriented (not necessarily in a religious or organized religion sense), this pathway to their recovery. By the way, substance use is a disease, a genetic disorder, a physiological disorder, as the alcoholic cannot metabolize alcohol effectively and therefore it is also a brain or neurological disorder. It also runs in families. Much research in this area. The same is true of nicotine addiction, if the individual begins smoking at a very early age, the brain’s nicotinic receptors are affected, and it is very difficult to break the habit. For those who start late in life, it is not as difficult.

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  • I too am no amateur. I lost my brother in 1996. He died of a heroin overdose. It behooves me in this context to mention that he (a “Jew” by birth – whatever that means) had also converted to Catholicism (was baptized – the whole nine yards). I should also mention that his religious mania was, I believe, a symptom of mental illness. He took LSD in college and had a psychotic break, was in and out of hospitals for years.

    I don’t, however, think that it is fruitful or even accurate to characterize religious people as addicts per se; that is no doubt an obsessive-compulsive component in many cases, but are they religious because they are addicts, or are they addicts because they are religious? in other words, I think that that is a simplification, a generalization.

    Addiction has a genetic and physiological component (although it is also environmental).

    Religion is complex and varied. There are, as you said, some similarities between addiction and “faith”; both the religious person and the addict are trying to fill a void. But what religion and what culture are we talking about? There are, I am sure, many religions and many cultures that we haven’t the slightest understanding of, so we shouldn’t lump them all together. And many Christians are Christians for different reasons. I would venture to guess that most of them are just being good little boys and girls, and could do just fine without it. No withdrawal, no nervous system excitation; in other words, no addiction. I think a habit is a more applicable word, and I am not splitting hairs.

    As for atheists, they (or we) have their religion too, and don’t kid yourself that they don’t. No, it’s not atheism itself as our detractors would have others believe, but we have our addictions too (television, computers, cell phones, posting comments, sex, cleaning, washing, OCD in general – you name it)!

    Finally (and I am exhausted, almost writing in my sleep), there is no community of atheists that I know of. If there is, I haven’t found it – except on this site. Where is this community? I’d like to find it. I am lost.

    One more thing: if you are an atheist and are reading this, and think you might have a problem with alcohol or some other substance, go to a 12 Step program; it is not a religious program; it is a big umbrella, with many non-believers, from what I understand. Don’t be turned off by the God thing; I know a lot of people who died of the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. AA or NA would have saved their lives. Put your atheism in your shirt pocket and get to a meeting.

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  • P.S. I know a few Marxists. Some are nice. One of them, a woman named Mary, is off the f–ing wall; she
    is religious in her way, as bad as any born-again Christian nut job or Hare Krisna cult member (Are they still around?) And she’s an atheist.
    Nothing against Marxists (my father was one)— just making a point. We have our religion / addictions too.
    I’ve reconsidered (took me three or four minutes): I think there might be an actual addictive component in the case of religion; it might even be a disease like alcoholism– but not all of them are addicts, only some.
    It could be a form of mental derangement as well. I think some studies have pointed in that direction.
    Who the hell knows. As long as that lunatic Carson or any of those other freaks don’t get elected we still have a shot.
    Time for bed. (TMI?)

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  • I’ve always had a problem with people who say that alcoholics across the board metabolize alcohol differently. I’ve heard that, and most of the many friends I have who happen to be in AA buy that (and AA IS a spiritual program, and fuck anyone who has a problem with that), but that I think is very simplistic. Alcoholics do not necessarily metabolize alcohol differently, although I do agree 100% that it is a disease. Some people drink a glass of wine a night and they would not go through withdrawal or anything like that; they drink to escape; in many cases it is entirely a mental (psychological) disease, “a disease of the attitudes,” not a physical one. It will always progress and affect one physically, but it is not an allergy and not all alkies metabolize booze differently. Someone wrote that in the so-called Big Book, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. I would hesitate to call it a neurological disorder. Alcoholics drink too damned much, period. You may not know what you’re talking about, Mr. Professional. No one can even prove that depression is a chemical imbalance. They just know that depressed patients can benefit from more serotonin. (Alcoholism does have a genetic component though. What doesn’t?)

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  • Note:

    Not having a good night. I’m all over the place. Down below I insisted that alcoholism was not necessarily a physical malady. Up here I said that that is a major component. I contradicted myself several times within a span of thirty minutes. Sorry. I can’t always be brilliant.

    Yours truly,

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  • Mike asks “What part does addiction play in the human impulse to religion?”

    Hi Mike,

    It’s my understanding that the word addiction was not, at least to begin with, a psychologists’ word. By that, I mean that addiction is not a word used to describe a pathology (pathology: study of evidence with a diagnostic or forensic aim).

    Addiction means: Behaviour repeated to the extent that it interferes with the subject’s ability to lead a normal life. The sub-text to the word addiction is that the Addict fails to make choices, to balance necessity (including a modicum of social conformity) with desires, in short: To get a grip.

    My further understanding is that psychologists prefer the term compulsion – the most commonly understood variety being obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Compulsives are well known to switch compulsions, and in some cases to have multiple compulsions – many compulsive gamblers are also alcoholics and smokers for example.

    Compulsion is known to be rooted in emotional distress. Compulsives, as with so many psychological disorders, vary greatly in the range of symptoms they exhibit but, in a crucial difference to addiction, compulsion contains no social judgement and therefore the approaches to treatment recognise the sufferer’s inability to improve without support.

    The difference between compulsion and addiction is that addiction contains a social judgement, while compulsion automatically identifies an illness.

    Do I know of religious people who are addicted to a religion?


    That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any – and the social judgement contained in the word addiction leaves the door open to many interpretations.

    I say no in the full knowledge that some people will bounce up and down on their chairs shouting “Jihadists”. Yes such people are following a religion to the extent that they are being anti-social. No they do not usually demonstrate a lack of self control.

    Do I know of religious people who exhibit compulsive behaviours related to their religion?


    In fact, almost all religious people exhibit at least some mild compulsive behaviour. One thinks of the repetitive use of prayer beads as a simple example.

    At what point does any repeated behaviour attract the label compulsive? Does visiting a place of worship on a weekly basis count as compulsive behaviour? Attending mass daily, without a break? Prostrating oneself in prayer five times a day? How about crossing oneself twenty or more times a day?

    The reason addiction and compulsion are confused is that it is the level of repeated behaviour that is key to recognising them. The rate of repetition is insupportable and not just the activity itself is judged as incompatible with a happy and fulfilled life. For many people, religious or not, the repeated activities of the religious do not equate to compulsions – and this is in line with the subjective nature of a diagnosis of compulsion.

    Also: Going to the Synagogue every week may be a habit with many positive returns on the time employed – meeting family and friends for example.

    Even with these caveats we, the non-religious, can see that religion is imposing itself on the lives of the religious – in particular we can see that what the religious see as positive uses of their time are frequently not.

    However, the time wasted by religious observance – obsessive or not – is minor in comparison to any link between religion and obsessive thinking.

    The obvious short-cut here is to recognise that religious people are human, they’re all different. In turn, this means that religious people exhibit many different varieties and severities of compulsion.

    It seems safe to conclude that many (most?) religious people demonstrate that they are compulsives. We can also recognise that these compulsions are:

    a. Damaging the lives of the religious, in ways that are common to all compulsive behaviours, and

    b. Rooted in distress – in some cases in trauma.

    The impulse, as you put it, may have many different roots. Looking at how organised religions work it’s clear that most market themselves on the basis that we will all lose someone we look to for support (e.g. a parent), for comfort (a partner or friend) and for hope (our children).

    Poverty, and fear of poverty, are also staples for how religions work on people’s distress – as Christopher Hitchens demonstrated with the case of the infamous Mother Teresa. By extension, we see how religions can twist any humanitarian aid into a sales pitch to the distressed: Orphanages, Hospitals, disaster relief …

    I am not a psychologist. With that in mind may I suggest, Mike, that the obsessive behaviours we see in the religious are not what drives people to religion – as your use of the word impulse might suggest. Rather, people who find themselves in emotional distress are directed by religious experience and channeling that distress into behaviours symptomatic of compulsive behaviour – and that looks to many like an addiction?


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  • Dan

    First of all, I’m very sorry for the troubles you and your family have gone through over the addiction and death of your brother. I have a very clear view of how siblings in particular suffer in certain ways because of this trying situation. I hope you have memories of a time together with him that are happy, before the whole thing went down the crapper.

    I don’t, however, think that it is fruitful or even accurate to characterize religious people as addicts per se;

    Right. I agree that they are not the same thing. Just that the question above prompts us to compare the two. 🙂 What I wrote explains what characteristics I see that they have in common.

    There are, I am sure, many religions and many cultures that we haven’t the slightest understanding of, so we shouldn’t lump them all together.

    I understand the pitfalls of lumping any group of objects or phenomena together and I’m wary of that, but it’s also a fact of life that lumping allows us to discuss categories of behaviors and try to develop treatments or strategies to deal with behaviors that we deem to be “dysfunctional”. As my friend who is a shrink says, it’s a crappy system but it’s all we’ve got! To be downright pragmatic, we need to classify dysfunctional behavior into categories so that insurance companies will pay for the meds and so that shrinks can funnel patients into therapy models that get results. But I am of the opinion that if there is one thing that the pious religionists have in common it is that the great majority of them must have been indoctrinated in their childhood by their own family members who practice their religion in their home and require their children to attend religious classes and worshiping events outside the home as well. It’s a highly effective system of straight up brainwashing.

    If there are factors that we can isolate that can be shown to increase the probability that any individual will end up addicted to any particular drug (including alcohol of course) then it would be very valuable indeed to identify those factors. I’m speculating here but from my view of things in the suburbs where I live, the young people who have been diagnosed with ADHD and the bipolar bunch are at serious risk for heroin addiction. They have characteristics that leave them vulnerable such as high impulsivity and an inability to rip themselves away from socializing and if we add to it an oppositional defiant component then we have a recipe for disaster.

    So I guess all I’m saying here is that addiction and religion have different sources but one thing they have in common is that when an outsider makes overt moves to threaten their bottom line then they all show a similar, super defensive reaction almost instantaneously. Stunned shock as they realize that they’re in the presence of a threat to their mindset or lifestyle. After that they launch into their defensive counter attack with blaming or denial or any of the standard defensive mechanisms and with varying degrees of hostility they will make their adversary appear to be a very bad person who is persecuting them for no reason whatsoever. They are all so very ho-hum predictable in that way.

    Where is this community? I’d like to find it. I am lost.

    On this question I think you are the glass half empty person and I am the glass half full person. The very day that I was strolling around in my local bookstore and standing at a table with new nonfiction releases on display there, and my eyes locked onto a book titled Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby, I thought, wow! I’m not alone in this! After that, on the same table I came across The God Delusion and found this website and everything all around it. This is our community Dan! It is a nascent community but we are on a steep upward curve. A friend of mine who attends the UU church invited me to attend with her and she said that there are plenty of atheists in attendance there. I told her that they must be atheists who need a sense of belonging to a community and who are to some degree extroverts. But I’m not like that. Remember that repulsive song that I was forced to sing for too many years – Amazing Grace. There is a line from that song that seems fitting for you now. I once was lost but now I’m found. We found you Dan! We don’t need a building. We have the internet. 🙂

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  • 12
    Pinball1970 says:

    Alcohol dehydrogenase which metabolizes alcohol in the body can vary between individuals and populations and there are genes controlling this.

    Some stuff on wiki but I don’t have any decent study refs.

    Social aspects too of course, its complex as you say.

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  • While some of these responses offer great insight, I think is simpler than that. I’ve seen it first hand while growing up in an evangelical church. Addicts are basically replacing one addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex…) with another. People in general have a difficult time dealing with empty spaces. Like for example, when a loved one dies, when their kids go away for college, when they retire after 35 years of work and in this case, when they try to get rid of an addiction. Religion becomes something that fills that void in their lives. What I’ve seen is that many of these recovering addicts go to church almost every day (Sunday service, biblical study day, prayer groups…), get involved in every activity and spend hours reading the Bible and other books. They’re replacing all the hours they used to spend drinking vodka, using cocaine or playing blackjack with God. And I’ve seen many go back to their addictions when they stop doing this. Bottom line: when addiction is not treated like a serious problem and God is perceived as the miraculous force that will cure it, one addiction is replaced with another and this is the result.

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  • 14
    peterspc says:

    why don’t we know the answer until something horrible happens and then blame ourselves afterwards saying I wish I had done this or that ? because we did have the answer in our memory or minds eye ? but chose not to piece together what was already there until needed but then to late ? so I think the to late bit is our biggest problem because such then leads to a prayer not for ourselves but towards the victim who we should have helped beforehand ? and I am sure you do not have to be religious to do such ?

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  • Latin addictiōn- (stem of addictiō) a giving over, surrender.
    The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

    Results of addictions
    Certain chemicals, such as heroin, crack, amphetamines and cocaine can alter the wiring of the synapses in your brain, leaving you chemically dependent for the release of dopamine. Alcohol can do the same, although neuro-science has this not entirely mapped out due to the complexity. Severe alcoholism usually leads to cirrhosis of the liver, which kills. Junkies are always looking for their next fix for the dopamine release. Outside of that, they have no purpose or wants; not even food, which is why older junkies look like toothless hunger victims. They are so totally chemically enslaved that their earlier morality is wiped out. So they steal from their own family, friends (If they have any) and strangers without compunction, just to get their next fix. Alcoholics crave all during the day for their first drink if they happen to be employed and alcohol breath is a risk. If not, they’ll start the day with a hair of the dog, straight out of bed, or wherever they crashed out.
    The cocaine habit can be cleared, but is no mean feat; the others are terminal

    Dipsomaniacs are in a class of their own: they have a genetic predisposition towards alcohol, and will always feel the craving.

    Religion does not fall in any of these categories (No chemical dependencies), but can certainly be compulsive if all your family and friends are the same; peer pressure can be very dominant in people’s lives, and declaring yourself secular may look like suicide.

    AA is a religious based 12-step program. Alcoholics Anonymous is famously difficult to study. By necessity, it keeps no records of who attends meetings; members come and go and are, of course, anonymous. No conclusive data exist on how well it works. In 2006, the Cochrane Collaboration, a health-care research group, reviewed studies going back to the 1960s and found that “no experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or [12-step] approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.” In his recent book, The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, Lance Dodes, a retired psychiatry professor from Harvard Medical School, looked at Alcoholics Anonymous’s retention rates along with studies on sobriety and rates of active involvement (attending meetings regularly and working the program) among AA members. Based on these data, he put AA’s actual success rate somewhere between 5 and 8 percent. That is just a rough estimate, but it’s the most precise one I’ve been able to find. People with alcohol problems also suffer from higher-than-normal rates of mental-health issues, and research has shown that treating depression and anxiety with medication can reduce drinking.

    But although few people seem to realize it, there are alternatives, including prescription drugs and therapies that aim to help patients learn to drink in moderation. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, these methods are based on modern science and have been proved, in randomized, controlled studies, to work.

    Subsequent studies found that an opioid antagonist called naltrexone was safe and effective for humans, and Sinclair began working with clinicians in Finland. He suggested prescribing naltrexone for patients to take an hour before drinking. As their cravings subsided, they could then learn to control their consumption. Numerous clinical trials have confirmed that the method is effective, and in 2001 Sinclair published a paper in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism reporting a 78 percent success rate in helping patients reduce their drinking to about 10 drinks a week. Some stopped drinking entirely.

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  • Naltrexone, otherwise known as vivitrol is available in the US in pill form and as a shot given monthly. The shot costs us just over one thousand dollars per dose. I’m not sure if private insurance pays for that (they damn well should pay!) but thankfully Medicaid – poverty level health insurance provided by the government does pay for the shot. This shot and other meds are saving lives. Not a perfect picture yet but at least we’ve had some progress. What would be wonderful is to have a naltrexone delivery system that is embedded in the body such as the one used by some diabetics.

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  • 17
    michelle says:

    My understanding of addiction is that it requires a substance that specifically interacts with brain receptors, and thereby the feedback loop causing behavioral dyscontrol. Religion is behavioral and a result of indoctrination; not a result of neurochemical binding of a substance to a receptor where there is tolerance, withdrawal, or dependence. Addiction is defined by withdrawal and physiologic signs that are measurable in addition.
    Perhaps this is an example of two behaviors that appear similar (and I’ve wondered about this myself as a metaphor), but are vastly different, similar to the God Virus metaphor, where there is no actual virus.

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  • objects or phenomena

    I like the word phenomena. Very Kantian. Yeah, I see what you mean; we have to categorize. As long as we are aware of the dangers of that we should categorize. Let’s just not categorize people off the face of the earth like we have in the past. (I do think in extremes, don’t I?)

    Thank you for the kind words about my family. It is an awful thing – particularly for the parents.

    The internet is my community? No. I want more than that. I’d like meet some of you nice Dawkins site people! Not gonna happen I guess. (Thansgiving is out, I presume.)

    I also think that this problem (religion in general; I’m doing some lumping myself)) is about indoctrination by the parents and their parents’s parents, etc. and said so. What’s the solution? Tough one.

    I suspect that ADHD is also a condition that has a lot to do with the dynamics, or as Laing put it, the “politics”, of the family. Why is it so prevalent precisely now? Can’t be just genetic. I suspect as well that the absence of a strong male role model is a factor. Can’t prove that. Sorry. Are you familiar with the late Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing?

    Here’s a nice set of quotes from The Politics of Experience, Chapter Three:

    “In order to rationalize our industrial-military complex, we have to destroy our capacity to see clearly any more what is in front of, and to imagine what is beyond, our noses. Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste to our own sanity. We begin with the children. It is imperative to catch them in time. Without the most thorough and rapid brainwashing their dirty minds would see through our dirty tricks. Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high I.Q.’s, if possible.”

    “From the moment of birth, when the Stone Age baby confronts the twentieth-century mother, the baby is subjected to those forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father, and their parents and their parents before them, have been. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities, and on the whole this enterprise is successful. By the time the new human being is fifteen or so, we are left with a being like ourselves, a half-crazed creature more or less adjusted to a mad world. This is normality in our present age.”

    “Love and violence, properly speaking, are polar opposites. Love lets the other be, but with affection and concern. Violence attempts to constrain the other’s freedom, to force him to act in the way we desire, but with ultimate lack of concern, with indifference to the other’s own existence or destiny.”

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  • Stephen of Wimbledon
    Nov 4, 2015 at 4:43 am

    Hey Stephen, remember me? How are you?

    I am glad we’re still using the word “psychological.” Everyone is so goddamned obsessed with neurology these days. Not good. Soon psychoanalysis and all the various facets and dynamics associated with our inter-human lives will be replaced and explained by neurology. Love and hate will be nothing more than a manifestation of something neurological (and yes, I know there is something gong on in the brain that does indeed correspond –in some fashion – to these emotions ). But is neurology a prima causa?

    Read William Stekel, Stephen. (He was a contemporary of Freud.) He wrote a book called Compulsion and Doubt. He was able to trace all of the symptoms (of his patients) of what was then called obsessional neurosis (OCD) back to their roots. And the roots were of a psychoanalytic nature. Yes. We’re all cracking up, turning into brain-obsessed monsters. (A little exaggerated, I know. Just want to make my point loud and clear.)


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  • Hi Dan,

    Of course I remember you, how could I forget.

    I agree that neurology is at last acquiring the tools to begin exploring the brain in much greater detail.

    There can be no doubt that improvements in neurology will greatly improve psychology. It’s a while ago now, but I read in a couple of places that the latest neurological advances are beginning to turn psychology into “a proper science”.

    Neurology, by its very nature as a science, will argue from specific facts (individual cases in large numbers) to generalisations. Neurology, then, will provide increasingly valuable rules of thumb, models of probable behaviour, and references. From these Neurology will also build better tools and guidelines for understanding the brain.

    But will neurology ever be able to argue from the above to a pathology of individuals? My hunch is no.

    Just as a Computer Manufacturer can give you basic insights into how a Client may, or may not, use their hardware it cannot divine the nature of specific programs written for that Client.

    Modern Neurology will move us from getting hardware guidelines to the equivalent of firmware, and operating system, guidelines. But, genetic and environmental differences will continue to confound attempts to understand individuals. For that, Psychology will probably always be required.

    As far as I can tell, Steckel was right – we are all ‘cracking up’ as you put it. The label sane is, apparently, rather a loose phrase!


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  • The human impulse for religion is nothing more than a personal insecurity and lack of confidence in itself as an antibody that seeks a foreign body to attack the religion would be that the lack of something to fill the gaps of human thought disease.

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  • No conclusive data exist on how well it works.

    Of course, this isn’t hard data, but I live two blocks from Dr. Bob’s house and I can guarantee a lot of people show up annually to pay homage on Founder’s Day. I admit I enjoy that weekend; most of the people are on bikes, and it’s like a bike night. Walking the area and looking at the license plates, some come from Alaska, New Zealand, the New England area, and a lot from the west coast.

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  • I have always seen religion as a safety blanket that overgrown kids hang on to. Seems ridiculous to me, but not to them (probably helps that so many people around them are doing the same).

    Could this actually be compared to addictions, such as a drug addiction? My answer: maybe for some, but not for all.

    For some people who were raised into religion, who never knew anything else, and who never had any reasons to doubt, I think the security blanket is just a part of everyday life (it is in a drawer somewhere, or it just gathers dust on a shelf). It would cost those people to let it go, of course, just as any adaptation would demand energy from anyone, but then proper social interactions and education would eventually make those people feel whole again.

    That was me. I was born in a Christian family, but by age 8, I decided the blanket was stupid and I started letting go. Years later, I finally put it in the trash for good. Felt quite good too!

    For others, however, the security blanket is held tightly, close to the heart. It is a life-saving buoy that keeps them from sinking, and letting go is just unthinkable. Those are the ones I think we could call addicts. They are the ones who love religion because it makes them feel good (soothes fear of death, alleviates guilt about past actions, lifts heavy burden of responsibility, etc), and they are the ones who will protect it at any cost (they lie to themselves and to others, they deprive themselves of healthy human interactions, etc.). But religion, just as any other addiction, is just a quick fix for an underlying problem (fear, loneliness, and many other problems that all come with the human experience).

    When religion fills a void that could (and should) be filled differently (in a healthier way), then yes, I do believe that religion can be compared to a drug. Religion and drugs actually have a lot of things in common: they make you forget reality, they distort your perceptions, they give you a false sense of hope, joy, fulfillment, etc. They both certainly make a lot of promises they can’t keep.

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  • onemoresecret
    Nov 4, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    I have always seen religion as a safety blanket that overgrown kids hang on to. Seems ridiculous to me, but not to them (probably helps that so many people around them are doing the same).

    It is a carrot and stick thing!
    The comfort-blanket is only one aspect.
    There is also the indoctrinated need for a religious crutch, which is indoctrinated into the hobbled dependent fundamentalist mind!

    If the crutch is taken away, they WILL fall over, as any attempt at acquiring balanced free thinking skills, will have been discouraged and demonised, with any doubts about religious teachings attached to heavy feelings of guilt and fear!

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  • 25
    fadeordraw says:

    Q. “What part does addiction play in the human impulse to religion?”
    A. I would understand that “the human impulse to religion” is about the instinctive desire to transcend the reality of death and, equally, an instinctive desire to socialize. We’re wired or bent that way. Religion has served a fundamental role in our evolution and religions have evolved. For many, religious ceremonies, practices and beliefs elicit a euphoria, sometimes deliriously so and sometimes a daily, delusional happiness. “Religion is the opiate of the people” (Karl Marx) does suggest an association between religion and addiction, though in the vast majority of cases, religion involves a childhood indoctrination, whereas few euphoria-seeking substance takers, as naïve teens or young adults, set out to become addicts. Yet tobacco smoking and pub drinking, as with religion, have a major socialization aspect to them. So the conclusion would be that addiction does not have a role to play in the human impulse to religion, but playing out that impulse often leads to an addiction to religion.

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  • 27
    mdhome says:

    I have no doubt that religion is an addiction for a number of people, but like alcohol not every participant becomes addicted. Some are certainly addicted and some can take it or leave it and others avoid it completely.

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  • 28
    Andre' says:

    I think a better way to state this question is to stipulate true total addiction from behaviors that mimic addictive traits. Addiction is not a fully understood psychological term and it has many underlying factors – as we all have addictions. I perceive the question as trying to hypothesize why religious belief can mimic that of the certain fundamental traits that underlie addictive behaviors. Religion does serve a basic need for community, but also kindles the tribalistic nature of humanity – and is divisive secondly only to jingoism. This addictive similarity is in the fulfillment of everyday cognitive schemas that have been ingrained, reinforced, and conditioned from childhood. Those cognitive schemas, as you age, are reinforced by your psyche’s need for nostalgia, which is born from the sentimentality of childhood. No matter what topic we discuss, anything we need that is rooted in nostalgia or sentimentality will mimic addictive behavioral patterns when we are fulfilling that need. As we forget the veracity of childhood memories, they seem to get better and better – more wonderful then they truly were. The feeling one gets in this edited remembering serves our psyche’s need for nostalgia, hungered by those voracious conditioned childhood cognitive schemas. Nostalgia is slowing forgetting the truth of memory. Every retelling of a story or memory gets embellished and better (worse for tragic memories) imbuing those memories with sentimentality. This is where religions’ stronghold lies and why people can have two minds about something, like Francis Collins who is a formidable scientist and a formidable Christian. As we edit, embellish, and falsely remember the past and its rewards on our psyche’s need for nostalgia and sentimentality, religious people do the same in remembering their religious upbringing – it isn’t even a total conscious need, which is where the power lies in stealing minds away at youth. I have a very religious friend I grew up with who hated going to church (we had to go 3 times a week and that was still in 1996 in Houston) and he talked and talked all the way through; bored as ever. He hated the clicks and the hypocrisy of the kids who would pray, go to confession, then bully him on Monday. I, on the other hand, took it seriously and prayed and truly felt god’s eyes on me. I’m an atheist and he found religion. When he tells me stories of how it means so much to him because religion was so important to him as a child, the parallel becomes glowingly evident of how people edit out what they want from the bible and throw away the rest as long as they satiate their need for sentimentality and nostalgia. They will fight tooth and nail in scriptural or faith-based debates because the atheist is undermining their go-to place (like questioning an addict’s drug, thus the similar traits) for that need. The addiction is in the need for that feeling to be quenched. This is a scary concept because we all have this need. Others just have it rooted in everyday cognitive schemas conditioned from a religious childhood.

    In conclusion, to those people who are served by religion, it’s in their perception of the seemingly lost innocence from adulthood found renewed in the falsely remembered faith (and embellished stories that reinforce that faith) of childhood – because childhood, for many, symbolizes innocence. That’s the addictive trait. Some people can’t hold on without their crutches. As secularists, it’s a harder, but a more honest and humbling stance to take in life. We know life offers so much more than religious people who have been shamed as children into feeling lesser, so they’re always looking backwards for answers and reinforcement from nostalgic memory. Due to the ubiquity of this problem, as we all fall pray to cognitive schema loops, especially in youth, the longer it’s reinforced the harder it is to shake. This illustrates the need for indoctrination to be kept from youth. The true addiction stems from religious teachings’ shaming of one’s self, created sick, yet must be well in his eyes. This underpins the need to keep believing. If their is a true addiction to be understood it’s in that. This is why religious indoctrination of children is mental and emotional abuse – making us all a type of addict and god is the drug. Once religion loses its power in youth, and stops supplanting our very nature and humanity, this addictive similarity, in my opinion, will, at least, tremendously weaken.

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  • 31
    Andre' says:

    I did not talk about fundamentalists or extremists, as I wanted to make it harder on myself to prove its addiction, thus illustrating the ubiquity of it at every level of belief. In my response above, I wanted to address the question so even moderates and every level of belief (even when it’s not as blatant to point out addiction as with extremism) harbor the addictive traits. Religious moderates provide the cover for religious atrocities from extremists to flourish.

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  • I don’t believe the term “addiction” is totally inaccurate.
    Religion is a form of brainwashing and programming. There is a component of addiction to brainwashing, but the addiction is not the starting component.
    Addiction starts after the indoctrination and programming.
    I would almost compare it to Stockholm Syndrome.

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  • I see a future in which these parents, and many more like them, will hang their heads in shame rather than look up to the skies in praise.

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  • …Psychology will probably always be required.

    Well Stekel would would probably not get any patients today. If you have OCD you don’t go to an analyst, you take an SSRI and maybe an atypical as an adjunct.
    Don’t get me wrong: I am very pro medication. But I also think that depression and anxiety, and other forms of mental illness (not including schizophrenia), can be treated by psychoanalysis.
    Soon – and I think this is almost inevitable – the concept of the unconscious will be completely superseded or usurped by neurology.
    My question is this. If our behavior is determined by neurological factors, then what, I ask, determines those neurological factors? I would argue that our environment, our interactions and experiences, influence our brain chemistry – over time.
    It is possible that psychology is primary; the conditions associated with our brains, particularly from a neurological standpoint, are a symptom, as opposed to the cause. Neurons (?) are themselves causes, but the cause behind the cause is something psychological, not physiological. (Perhaps this distinction is erroneous. I am just thinking aloud, as it were – and suspect, as usual, that I am on to something).
    It is analogous to musculature.
    Muscles are genetic, one might say. Yes, but there were environmental conditions that had to have given rise to the genes that correspond to people born muscular.
    Hope that made some sense. This is not exactly my forte. Now Kant said . . . (kidding)
    Let’s hope psychology is here to stay, and is not replaced altogether by neurology. Why don’t you order Compulsion and Doubt? You can get it on Amazon. Do they have that in England?
    Peace. (I like that valediction.)

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  • 37
    bonnie says:

    Deja vu – a niece, in highchair at supper table, was told to fold your little hands for (Catholic) prayer. Educated, intelligent parents – did they notice my jaw on the floor? Maybe she can shake it off when at university.

    RD received a lot of flak for referring to this sort of thing as child abuse.

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  • I’m no expert on this but I’ll have a bash.

    addiction is, as far as I’m aware, a compulsion to create reward hormones in the brain, this can be by taking chemicals that cause the brain to produce more, or through some other act, e.g. excersize which created endorphins and can be adictive.

    It seems to me it’s likely that if people find pleasure in religion, as they always profess to, it can be addictive. what I find compelling though, is how many famous people have spoken out about how turning to religion cured them of their alcohol/drug/sex addiction.

    This can mean only one of 2 things, either the religion is providing an alternative stimulus or, there is a god who takes away the need for such stimulus for as long as they stay within the religion. Either has the same ultimate outcome, to repress one compulsion, you must replace it with another. For those who have never known addiction in the normal sense but always been religious (I know a few), their view is they could not live without their religion.

    My conclusion is addiction does not play a part in religion, or the other way round. Religion is just another stimulus available to those who need it or want it. some just need a little experiment at christmas and go home feeling all warm and fuzzy, some are habitual.

    However, I’m also aware that Christopher Hitchens pointed out religion is the cure to an illness of it’s own making. If you treat a child badly enough, make him or her feel worthless and powerless, then offer them something to help them get through life, especially while their young brain is developing, of course they’re in danger of becoming addicted to something.

    Religion is both the opium of the masses and the methadone of the privileged.

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  • “Addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.” (Wikipedia)
    Certainly this is a definition that includes “religion”. Most addictions are personal, like being addicted to a Doctor Pepper every morning, but religion is a communal addiction which is only enhanced by the support of others with the same addiction. This feel good addiction occurs, where all addictions occur, in the brain. These religious feelings, sensations, dreams can occur nowhere else but between the ears. Religion initially was a means to explain the physical world, but has become a shield against verified explanations of these same phenomena. This addiction makes the addicted feel safe and loved and part of something bigger than themselves. It explains their concerns and reassures them that they are good (if they follow the rules) and promises great things.
    As an addiction, which religion most certainly is, those addicted should be treated as any other addict and they should be treated as such.

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  • Hi Dan,

    It is possible that psychology is primary; the conditions associated with our brains, particularly from a neurological standpoint, are a symptom, as opposed to the cause.

    As someone who studied computer programming (I never caught the bug like some people) it seems perfectly reasonable to me to consider psychology as a set of emergent properties of brains, just as computer programs are the emergent functions of the interactions of people with computer hardware – in an analogous way to Chemistry emerging from the underlying atomic Physics in varied environments.

    The next step might be to consider: Is human ‘software’ (for want of a better term) self-programming? It seems to me that we humans suffer from our own perspective – we see ourselves as self-evidently self programming – but is that true, could we gain a better insight from a different perspective?

    I have no difficulty appreciating that computer software can generate pseudo-random numbers and employ memories, recursion and conditional branching and condition testing and automatic code generation in a manner that appears separate – in terms of function and external interaction with its environment – to the hardware on which it runs. Like us then, computers give the appearance of being self programming. We only think they self program to a lesser degree because we know how they work (we know their detailed ‘neurology’) and because we have a 3rd Party perspective.

    Nevertheless, the programs still require silicon chips. These things, emergence, can give the misleading impression of being separate and divisible – just as evolution can give the misleading impression of design.

    Neurones (?) are themselves causes, but the cause behind the cause is something psychological, not physiological

    I’m not a particular fan of cause and effect. Of course I live in Middle Earth, where cause and effect rule, but that’s as maybe.

    In the same way that programs emerge from hardware, and live indivisibly in hardware, so our psychology lives in us.

    I conclude that the apparently transcendent nature of psychology is an illusion. Our thinking is no more separable from our brains than a modern complex computer program can be run without chips.

    Although I never caught the bug, I have always been in touch with the great beauty that inspires programmers. Any good programmer will tell you not only of the satisfaction of ‘it works’, but also of the fascinating situation when the correct data was fed into a faultless program and produced a result so unexpected it produced a surprise. The search for the error begins, but none is found, and awe is experienced. The ordinary was transformed to the extraordinary.

    This is how transcendence occurs … we begin with the simple, the prosaic, and we build slowly through the increasingly complex until we arrive at the point where the first true bird takes flight from a standing start to soar above all the rest of the World.

    Just like an Overture; Nature scales new heights from the simple ditties of one or two instruments and slowly builds to the crashing, thunderous, cataclysm of the finale with its many complex interacting themes.

    If there is a cause for neurones (and other brain circuitry) then it will be found in the banal, in the everyday. Poetry is made from letters, not vice versa.

    Muscles are genetic, one might say.

    No, one may not say that. The instruction set for how a muscle is made, attached via the tendons to the correct bones and operated, are contained in genes. The genes, in turn, emerged, little by little, from our ancestral past. Transformed from ordinary stuff …

    So too with brains. Brain Genes have emerged, little by little, each time a little bit different and, from the laboratory of Live or Die, emerged our ancestors with brains better able to live, and lust … and, later, to love.

    Yes, but there were environmental conditions that had to have given rise to the genes that correspond to people born muscular.

    Yes, every day the environment of the natural World (for a large part of human history, the African Savannah) weeded out those potential ancestors who had the wrong kinds of muscles. Only those with the best muscles produced you and me. Our ancestors were the pen and paper, the Savannah – and all that lived in it – was the Scribe, and we are the modern poetry. As Darwin said: ” … man bears the indelible stamp of his lowly origin”. Because, let’s be honest, modern poetry ain’t perfect.

    Our brains are no different. We’re wired for survival in a place that provided frequent urgency – and only rare opportunities for reflection and consideration. Barely surviving is as banal as it gets – intellectually speaking.

    Modern poetry isn’t as good as it might be, and the same goes for our brains. The computers are catching up fast, and there are many reasons for that. One of the least discussed is that we’re not that advanced to begin with. It takes very little, as is suggested by the 1.2% difference between us and Chimpanzees (DNA), to transcend a life of live, sex, care.

    I wonder where we are in the big overture of the brain – so big that we can no longer hear the first squeak of our first ancestor’s first thought, and where the future is still lost in the dense impenetrable fog of possibilities.


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  • Nice, Stephen.

    I would only add that psychology is dependent upon data and data is dependent upon the use of energy, the doing of work. This is entirely physical. Data (acting as data rather than simply being stored) requires immediate work…and the work needs engines.

    There can never be an escape into abstraction.

    In the UK CBT not drugs tends to be the first treatment for OCD.

    Neural pacemeakers show huge promise though…

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  • @OP – “What part does addiction play in the human impulse to religion?”

    I have to say I think this theist claim is ironical and unsurprisingly focussed on sex!

    The Bishop of Chester called for more curbs on what young people can access on the internet.

    And he warned that porn users can become addicted to it like people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs.

    .. . . . or religions ??

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  • I see your point. Blanket seems like a good image for the softer version (when religion is just a very small and off-mind comfort, which it is for so many people around me… and that’s what it was to me when I was young), and crutch is a better image for the more extreme kind of religious ‘need’. You think you absolutely need it to keep going, because you were strongly indoctrinated or something like that. So true! Good image! Thanks!

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  • It’s a nice question. Let’s separate it in topics, answering each one in sequence.

    1 – Addiction to illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin or crack.
    It depends on your background, how you lived your life before the addiction and how you live it afterwards, in case you are not addicted anymore. Addiction itself will not play a major role on your religiousness unless you want it to. For many ex-junkies, there is some sort of save-me-from-these-drugs role in religion. Life troubles tend to lead people to sink on drugs, such as lost of loved ones, financial problems, diseases, relationships etc. And many people find in religion a mean to escape from them.

    2 – Addiction to legal drugs, such as alcohol and cigarettes.
    Unless your are a deep smoker or alcoholic, in which case you fall into the first topic above, the relation between addiction and religion may come from health issues, mostly in the long term. People tend to “become” very religious when they see their lifespan reduced dramatically by these slow killers. It’s more of a desperate reaction, trying to reach any way to cure themselves.

    3 – Addiction to substances such as endorphine and adrenaline.
    It is widely known that some substances produced in our body, or sometimes introduced from outside, may cause addiction, as they produce well-being sensations or the feel of being very alive. I don’t see much relation to religion here, unless somehow thoses good feelings are triggered by some sort of religious ritual and you blindly believe that religion itself caused them.

    4 – Appetite for wonder
    Scientists, and curious people in general, are addicted to knowledge. The sensation of learning something new is always very rewarding. It is the best form of religiosity. Faith in science and all its potential lead to the pathway of knowledge and wisdom, the understanding of how things work and why you should live your life in the best possible way.

    Sorry for my lousy english.


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  • I’m not a particular fan of cause and effect.

    To deny the realness of causes is to deny realness itself. It’s amazing to me how someone whose acumen is so prodigious when it comes to science (and this applies to Phil R. as well) can be so damned ignorant when it comes to philosophy – which is not like religion, mind you. The knowledge of causality (an infinite regress) is a law of mental life, period. I am right and you are wrong, and that’s that.

    As for psychology versus neurology, what do you do if you’re depressed, go to a surgeon and point to your forehead over your right eyebrow?

    If psychology is (ultimately) irrelevant then how do you explain the fact that countless people have benefited from psychoanalysis since Freud’s time, Mr. Robot? Oh yes! It’s all about the brain. Doesn’t matter that maybe someone was, say, abused as a child. That’s all secondary. The brain! Our new God. A prima cause par excellence. God help us; if we’re lucky the difference between us and computers will become increasingly blurred as time goes by.

    (Don’t take offense. Just letting off steam). Peace!!!

    P.S. CBT is for very sick people who have no insight, self-awareness, patience, intelligence, or ability to look at themselves. They are cut off.

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  • First you have to understand what it means to be addicted. Addiction can be any exaggerated habit. And religion does seem to be a exaggerated habit. I mean religion is a habit of humans who phase magic as there sense of understanding. Its frighting to not know, we are frightened to act off instinct because we are afraid of what happens when people become primal. When you are primal it makes no difference between yourself and the other creatures that inhabit the earth. So I would say given the knowledge of being alive, we would be addicted to living. I mean the earth is fascinating, why would we not be addicted to it?

    When you are a herion addict, you crave heroin because you have arrived in a point in time where you have no purpose to do anything else. You feel your only purpose is too embrace the high because you know the feeling is real. Some people are addicted to living a short lifestyle, others are addicted to a long one.

    As story-telling mammals, we create purpose. Every story has a moral. The question as people started to analyze the story was, OK we are living, what happens when we die. One human told people of gourious afterlife’s as long as they followed a code. Now being that people liked the idea of life , because its all they ever known, found a sort of ‘high” in being a good person. Having a better life then someone was clearly a goal considering the social structure we adopted. So imagine having a better afterlife then someone! The thought of being supierior can only exsist in the mind of someone who has made it their reality. Problem is, people will go to any lengths to make their dreams come true.If you have reasoned that life, the only thing you know, will be available to you in glourioua abundance based on actions you do in this world, you will be addicted to pleasing the christian fate so you can continue to breathe in the unknown afterlife.

    All in all, people are addicted to living and will do anything through their self created reasons to comprehend a sane world for them to flourish in.

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  • I for one have completely lost track of exactly what you are arguing for Dan? You seem to be contradicting yourself regularly now. Is it reality or the concept of reality?

    I went to a psychologist for depression years ago. He gave me pills and buggered off for two weeks holiday. PILLS.

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  • More on cause and effect:

    Whenever something occurs, we do not regard that occurrence as having popped into existence out of nothing. We always attribute it (consciously if we have insight it) to a preceding cause. I agree that this law, as an abstract idea, is probably foreign to most people, but it is still a law. “Primitive” peoples (for lack of a more precise word, if there is one) tend to believe in magic; that is because their understanding of cause and effect is not sufficiently developed; things seem to just happen.
    The knowledge that every effect has a cause and that every cause has a preceding cause, however, is not abstract knowledge primarily; it is a pure intuition. Even animals have this knowledge. If this were not the case then no distinction would be made between an external source of, say, pleasure or pain, and the animal’s own body. The understanding (of causality) traces the effect back to something external (if it is external, as opposed to a feeling arising from within the animal’s own body). Same with humans. We intuitively trace back effects such as the warmth of the sun, or the touch of a hand, to a source outside of ourselves. You take that tracing-back for granted; I do not.
    We do not have to be aware of what makes the heart work in order to breathe. In the same way, we do not have to have any idea that such a law is a law, but what I am hearing is closer to mysticism than what I am saying. No law of causality? Therefore, something, an event, or the appearance of something, can literally just appear out of nothing.
    You know that this is not how the human mind works. We cannot conceive of anything arising out of nothing. That is because cause and effect is an innate, a priori condition of the understanding.
    There are no breaks in the chain of causality.
    When you do something, you expect an effect, and you expect that effect to produce another cause, ad infinitum. You take that for granted, but shouldn’t. That is the law I referred to. You are so accustomed to it, that you can’t even see it, the forest through the trees.
    The opposite of a causal law is no causal law, obviously. That would be another world in another universe, with different laws. I for one cannot conceive of such a world or universe, in which the spontaneous coming-into-existence or an action producing no reaction or effect would or could take place. Coming-to-be without a cause is simply inconceivable. That is not the world we live in. What we call reality is based upon causality. No causality, no (empirical) reality.

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  • Olgun, I am responding to Stephen’s remark about cause and effect. He said he is not a fan.
    I have not contradicted myself on this point or about my conception of reality.
    Reality is a concept, of course. You cannot perceive “reality.”
    The real is also what we perceive as real. Particular, real things, are perceived (and are, in my view, dependent upon the mind). Reality is an abstract concept. Real things are first and foremost objects of perception.
    There is the real, and the there is the thing-in-itself. The thing-in-itself is not matter. It has no “real” qualities.
    I am aware that there are a few people on this site and elsewhere that disagree with me on this.
    Btw, what’s wrong with pills? Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are wonderful, can save one’s life. That’s science!

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  • I don’t think it’s “addictive” (for most individuals).

    I’d use the analogy of “imprinting” with animals, whereby the first moving thing a newly hatched duck or alligator sees is its mother.

    In the same way, when a human child is very young, certain ideas – if expressed forcefully and/or repeatedly by authority figures – just sink in and become “motherhood” statements.

    I’ve experienced the same (thankfully not with religion), whereby one parent’s eccentric disdain for leather suites (which I remember being repeated often when I was young) put me off buying one for years.

    Likewise, I’ve never been into tatts and piercings (which, unlike the attitude to leather suites, I see no reason to change) – an attitude I believe came from a primary school teacher who railed against them (your body is your temple kind of thing), something I didn’t realise/remember for many years.

    These are just isolated examples of how other people’s opinions became my own, without any rational/factual basis, without me realising it.

    Now imagine someone subjected, not to random opinions on micro-topics, but to the edifice of an organised religion, espoused by every authority figure (and everyone else) in a child’s life and “backed up” by centuries of tradition and supported by the writings of distant respectable authority figures – theologians, philosophers, etc.
    The wonder is that anyone is able to break free from this programming on their own, regardless of how irrational the belief system maybe.

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  • I’m not sure if I’d call religion an addiction but I think the commonality with addictions, and becoming free from them, is denial. Until someone can admit they have a problem there is no possibility of a cure. When I was house hunting 3 years ago the first place I viewed was owned by a vastly overweight woman in her mid 50s with 12 dogs. Not the “proper” sort of dogs like my black labrador Sammie. The nasty little yappy balls of fur about the size of large rats that shed hair everywhere, bark constantly and have no apparent other function. These poor things received no discipline, never got taken for walks and spent their lives crapping and weeing inside the house. The smell in there was beyond imagining. There were not even litter trays. They just went on whichever bit of floor they felt like and she picked it up later. We stayed friends though although not surprisingly I didn’t buy her house. She has no job, no other friends I can discern, no social life, no family since her mum died and nothing much to live for other than her “babies” who all sleep in the same bed as her after they’ve finished crapping everywhere. Everything she owns is covered in a mat of fine dog hair.

    She finally found a buyer and moved house with a few thousand pounds left over. I visited the next day and it was a nice little house, previously owned by a fairly houseproud single mum and her kid. By then the rats had already crapped and weed on every carpet and the place stank. The first thing she did with the remaining money was rip up all the perfectly good carpets and replace with hard floors so the rats could crap where they liked. The remainder went on replacing a perfectly good kitchen with an almost identical new one because apparently “something smelled funny in there”. This from a person whose entire life is spent in a miasma of animal faeces and urine.

    When the central heating boiler broke there was thus no money left to fix it. When the roof started leaking there was no money left to fix it. The house became cold and damp and mould started to grow. Her clothes and books rotted. Mice got inside. The dogs have scratched every bit of paint off the walls and destroyed the doors in the rooms they get put in. I stored some of her stuff in my own house just to try and help before everything perished. When the car tax and insurance ran out she kept driving until the police pulled her over and took her to court. Most of the social security money she gets goes on feeding the rats. They only eat the expensive sachets of foil wrapped food!

    She refuses to admit she has any sort of problem. Usually when she says she’ll come round she fails to turn up. She later explains she “wasn’t feeling well”, usually a migraine or some such and she’d retired to her dog hair infested bed. My opinion that she is so deep in depression she can no longer make rational decisions in her life does not resonate it seems. The carpets “had” to be replaced because they were wet although she now forgets the roof didn’t start leaking until much later. What they were wet with was dog piss. The kitchen “had” to be replaced because she can’t live in a place that smells funny. The irony is somewhat tragic. I’ve taken her several car loads of firewood from the trees round my house so she can at least heat the lounge now there’s no heat or hot water but it doesn’t last long and then she’s back to being cold.

    I’ve now given up. I won’t be phoning again. It depresses me too much to know what she’s up to. The last time she came round I checked her car registration online and despite her court case and pleading her way out of a fine the road tax had run out again two months previously. She claimed she’d received no reminder to retax it and was driving around oblivious again. Next time she’s stopped the police will crush it and she’ll have no transport either.

    People make up their own reality to explain away their decisions and beliefs. If the truth doesn’t fit the narrative then the truth has to change. The narrative is usually the constant not the variable. I can see how religion fits exactly the same pattern as addiction and obsession and depression. I think in all cases you have to reach rock bottom before there’s much hope of a cure.

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  • P.S. CBT is for very sick people who have no insight, self-awareness, patience, intelligence, or ability to look at themselves. They are cut off.

    What an utterly weird world you live in Dan. Its nothing of the sort and is used for all manner of modest ills and just occasionally for bigguns. It affords a modest rewiring of brains through training to avoid harmful or unwelcome thoughts and the like. Unlike Freudian analysis which makes the unreasonable assumption that creating overarching conscious models of your psychological ills will give you better traction of them, CBT attempts much smaller tactical fixes of simply say diverting attention at a critical moment. Obssessive thinking is tackled head on to drain the very source of the anxiety to stop its positive feedback and self maintenance. It is one of the most effective talking treatments we have.

    Brains grow and wire to their task by doing. Experience when young builds brain structure. Abuse when young floods the brain with cortisol putting the brain into some antique defence mode that some have suggested diverts energy away from brain development to be used simply for survival. Those Roumanian orphans with their impoverished experiences that flooded the literature for the last decade or so, the worst at least were brain damaged beyond rescuing. Words and actions cause physical changes in the brain. Even a memory is a physical change.

    More than anything you woud benefit from reading some neuro-psychology. Far from unweaving the rainbow of minds it makes them more wonderful, astonishing and treasurable.

    I think you might be misapprehending Stephen on what he is saying on cause and effect here. In brains possible causes are legion. They need to be understood in more sophisticated ways.

    For my own arguments I have no intention of asking you to do anything other than work with your current idea of cause and effect….

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  • Well maybe CBT can be helpful, but I have always had an aversion to it. Perhaps it is a prejudice. To each his own.
    I don’t like the idea of being conditioned to doing something (although we all are to some degree or another, regardless of whether we are receiving CBT or not).
    I do live in a weird word.
    But you are so brain oriented. I fear you might be missing a few things. We are not our brains any more than we are our stomachs or our livers. Just an organ.
    This is an interesting question: what is the Self? What is character? The brain (the seat of knowledge) is the medium of motives. The will is not in the brain. What we will is and what we know are two distinct things, or at least I always thought they were.
    My assumption is that you would insist that willing is also in the brain, right?

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  • If you want conclusive data you won’t find it. But if you want proof, then ask someone who has been sober in AA for many years after everything else failed. And let him tell you about all the other people he knows that have their own stories of recovery. If that doesn’t convince you then nothing will.

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  • Paul:

    You have a misapprehension about AA and a limited understanding of the nature of alcoholism. AA is not a religious program. The steps in any 12 step program do refer to a God, but that is something that many members simply get used to and accept, take with a grain of salt. (That’s how the founders wrote it. It’s just the way it is.) There are some believers in the program and many atheists as well who sometimes share about this issue, and have a problem with it. They are told that their “higher power” needn’t be anything more than AA itself. You mustn’t judge AA from without. Don’t you know anyone in AA? Where have you been? It works. Not everyone makes it but there are a lot of people who stay sober in AA after all else has failed
    It is anonymous because there is a stigma associated with being an alcoholic. It has to be a safe place. If you were, say, a lawyer, would you want people blabbing about having seen you at a meeting? (People are free to break their own anonymity and many do.)
    There are tons of atheists in the rooms and it is not a cult. No dues or fees. No hierarchy. No rules, except you can’t be disruptive. (You’ll be asked to leave that particular meeting.)
    And “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”
    You shouldn’t knock AA. You know not whereof you speak, sir.
    As for your drug, I hope it helps, but it is hard to imagine that it would be efficacious when dealing with the cunning, baffling and powerful disease of alcoholism. Give someone a pill, and maybe he or she will stop drinking for a while, but you’ll still have a miserable, dry-drunk on your hands who will probably go back to drinking at some point or find some other substance or addiction to replace it.
    It is not just about not drinking. That is what I meant when I said that your understanding of this problem is limited. There are many facets to the disease. It is, among other things, “a disease of the attitudes.”


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  • For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    Was Newton confused too? This is (classic) physics but it still is causality he is talking about. The law of causality that I referred to (a law that is innate in the mind) is presupposed by this third law of his.

    That would be funny if in a presidential debate Anderson Cooper said:
    “Governor Bush, causality.”
    “Pardon me?”
    “Causality. Your take on it.”
    “I pass.”
    “Mr Trump?”
    “I love causality. See what I mean? The governor is a low-energy guy.”

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  • Dan, there is so much EVIDENCE waiting for you to discover. In a month or a year when you feel strong enought to explore it, I would be glad to take you through it. But for now I think you are not ready. Instead of thrilling your very socks off it may dismay you and needlessly so.

    My brother’s lesson to me of truth as humanity’s defining product and that our care must always and ever be serve it, requires us also to never utter our wishes as truths unless we know them as truths. I admire you for identifying your wishes as you do…

    I urge you to read in the meantime.

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  • I have mentioned him before…my Muslim brother turned up after a couple of years converted to Christianity under the AA. It turned out not to be a big enough buzz and he returned to drink and drugs. His extreme addictive nature was there to see. My youngest sister not only looked like him but displayed the same addictive nature only held back because of her gender in a moderately tight community. I free-based cocain once and because I have my dads stubbornness, decided it was too good to ever take again. I smoked weed, on and off, for years but decided to give it up and did. I employed an alcoholic years ago because when he was sober he worked as fast as I could. He would go AWOL after a weekend binge. His addiction was even more comprehensive. He would buy tools that took his fancy and not needed and his big fetish was coats. I don’t think I ever saw him in the same coat twice. My eldest sister has my dads stubbornness but is hooked on religion out of fear. The repetition of praying five times a day keeps that fear going and the OCD.

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  • Dear Vicki,

    If you are not in AA you can’t possibly understand it. It does not lean strongly toward religion. It leans strongly towards helping people stay sober one day at a time. I have been in AA for twenty years, and I am on this site, am an atheist. There are tons of agnostics and atheists in AA. AA is not anything other than an aggregate of its individual members! AA does not tell people what to think or what to believe. There is no AA doctrine or authority figure. It is just people trying to stay away from the first drink. The steps do mention God but I assure you that that is just something we have to accept and get used to. I didn’t like it much myself at first but now I just ignore that reference as most or many people do. For may people GOD is Good Orderly Direction. For others it is Group of Drunks. AA is NOT a religious program. Trust me. I know. Religion is not pushed down our throats, and there is no one to do the pushing. If you should run into a religious person who says you have to believe in God (and that rarely happens) you walk away. We associate with who we choose to associate with. Again, you have to be in AA in order to understand that it is NOT a religious program. From the outside looking in it does seem like it could be. That’s a problem for newcomers. I had a hard time in the beginning, as I said. I would also be dead like my late brother (heroin overdose) were it not for the fellowship of AA. Please keep an open mind.

    Everyone in AA is their own person.



    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

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  • Wow, those were good reads!

    Dan, I recommend Alan’s first link: I think some of the posters reflect the same feelings and perspectives as you. And kudos, BTW, for 20 years of “one day at a time!”

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  • You know nothing about AA. There are no individual branches.
    I won’t discuss this further. I don’t even care what Dawkins has to say.
    He is not in AA and therefore doesn’t have a clue what AA is like either.
    Alan, I have been in AA for 20 years as I said in my comment which you didn’t read and you have not attended one meeting. Your reference to the “mission” and to “branches” indicates your ignorance.
    I am ignorant about a lot of things and you are ignorant about AA.
    I won’t respond to any more comments on this, and although I revere the man I am not the least bit interested in Dawkins’ comments either. I said what I have to say, rose to the defense of AA against the charge of being religious, as well and as passionately as I can, and that’s that.
    Thanks, Vicki. My anniversary is December 17th. I’ll have twenty years.
    “Religion is for people who want to go to heaven. AA is for people who have been through hell.”

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  • Dan
    Nov 6, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    You know nothing about AA. There are no individual branches.

    Perhaps you have some different understanding of the term “branch”, which normally describes geographically separated parts of an organisation!

    Find an AA Meeting Near You With This Helpful Guide
    Find an A.A. meeting with this list of state-by-state Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and schedules.

    Agnostic AA NYC
    A collection of meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous in New York City for recovering alcoholics who prefer an alternative to the emphasis on religion and Higher Power commonly encountered in most A.A. meetings.

    Perhaps your local group/branch, is not typical!

    Please keep an open mind.

    There is a whole world far beyond your local area where simple research can provide information on the big picture, which is described in the mission statement Vicki linked.

    I have never been an alcoholic, but do know how to carry out investigations and research.

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  • Dan
    Nov 6, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    Your reference to the “mission” and to “branches” indicates your ignorance.

    Actually it is an indication of my clear understanding.
    Perhaps you are not familiar with the term “mission statement” in a non-religious context!

    Definition: A sentence describing a company’s function, markets and competitive advantages; a short written statement of your business goals and philosophies .

    .A mission statement defines what an organization is, why it exists, its reason for being. At a minimum, your mission statement should define who your primary customers are, identify the products and services you produce, and describe the geographical location in which you operate.

    If you don’t have a mission statement, create one by writing down in one sentence what the purpose of your business is. Ask two or three of the key people in your company to do the same thing. Then discuss the statements and come up with one sentence everyone agrees with. Once you have finalized your mission statement, communicate it to everyone in the company.

    It’s more important to communicate the mission statement to employees than to customers. Your mission statement doesn’t have to be clever or catchy–just accurate.

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  • 72
    michelle says:

    I would add to my earlier comment that we can be indoctrinated into all sorts of things, including how we may feel or believe about a construct, including addiction. It’s a similarity between religion and addiction, like a lot of other things. However, it does not make religion and addiction the same phenomenon. There are other superficial similarities, of course however the underlying process in both appears to be quite different, neuroanatomically and neurochemically.
    Just to clarify.

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  • I am aware that there are meetings here in NYC for agnostics. There are also gay and lesbian meetings. The former is a rather new thing and I haven’t met anyone who goes to those meetings. I guess they are for people who really don’t want to see or hear the word God, period The rest of the atheists or agnostics (and no one knows or cares who is an atheist or religious; it just doesn’t come up) just go to meetings. The God thing is just something you have to get used to; they are how the steps were written; as I said, it is not a religious program and people are not asked by anyone to believe in God; AA is a big umbrella. Some newcomers use the “God thing” as an excuse to go out and drink again. Alcoholics are good at finding excuses, and we are happy to “refund their misery.”
    There are no branches. There are just meetings. They are all the same, although people vary, as we all know. No mission other than the one stated in the preamble. There is no AA mission other than that; AA is not a thing; just people! There are no leaders, or hierarchy, like a in a church. None whatsoever. People of all different backgrounds come to meetings to stay sober. We go, we hear the “qualification”, someone story, then usually there is a show of hands. (Meetings do have different formats.)
    Afterwords we go home or socialize if we feel like it.
    The members are as varied in terms of background as you’ll find anywhere. No leader, no mission, no pressure. GOD is not a big deal in AA. Perhaps at some meetings, in some parts of the country, it is. I went to one upstate and it was a little bit like a bible meeting. Too much for me about the Higher Power. But by in large, it is secular, all-inclusive. GOD is Group Of Dunks for most people.
    We can’t change how the steps were written; that would be bad.
    If you don’t think going to meetings on a weekly and often daily basis for 20 years constitutes an investigation (and any other form of “research” would be nuts) than I don’t know what to tell you. You have to be right, don’t you?
    How many times do I have to tell you, that in spite of the fact that the word God appears in the steps, and that it says “spiritual awakening” AA is not a religious program?
    I will admit that “the God thing” as we call it can be very off-putting and a bit of a problem for a lot of people and if you do do the steps (and I have never done them formally) you need to find a “sponsor” who is likeminded. There are some believers in the rooms and many, many, many non-believers. But we exclude NO ONE and include ALL. Everyone interprets the “higher power” in his or her own way, or not at all if that is that person’s choice. For me it is AA itself.

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  • P.S. Alan, I posted this above and will post it again. This is read at the start of every AA meeting. I have been to meetings in London and in Rome. (There were even fewer references to the Higher Power there than in NYC; in all fairness, AA is but a microcosm and there are still too many people in the rooms, and out of them, who like to think that there is a God in heaven). But this, again, is read at the start of every meeting. It describes what AA is and what it is not. As far as I know this preamble is as old as the fellowship itself.

    “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.”

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  • Dan
    Nov 7, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Have a look at the earlier discussions with comments on AA from people all over the world, which I linked in my comment below. There are further links from those discussions if you are interested.

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  • 76
    Enigmaparibus says:

    I think religious people are like gamblers in that when they have a lucky event they falsely attribute it to an answer to prayer where the rational simply see it as a positive outcome that occurred by chance. If someone is saved by a doctor they thank a god and if not they sue a doctor or hospital.

    We know from Pavlov’s dog experiment the classical conditioning where the dog salivated at the sound of a bell or the person in a lab coat bringing the food. Likewise, when the gambler plays the poker machine, there is an occasional reward (conditioning) with a return of some coins that make the player think they’re on a winning streak.
    The gambler then gets the Gambler’s Fallacy into their head where they believe this chance will not be here forever, so they eagerly feed the poker machine with more coins.

    All through life good and bad stuff happens to all of us. The religious will imagine divine intervention for all the normal and positive things that happen in life yet somehow are able to practice a cognitive switch to blank out and negate events that were unwanted. Just as we saw people who were devastated by the Asian tsunami, thanking a god for saving them or a Pope saying a god made a bullet miss his heart. All these actions take enormous shifts in thinking to pretend, after the event, that it was an intended consequence.

    I think our parents conditioned us by fulfilling our needs as we made demands for food, shelter and warmth and the requirements were suddenly there as if by magic. Through childhood, we had instant gratification and now continue to want the same and a bit more of something for nothing. It is hoped that we mature enough to know it is not going to happen without effort on our part and the reality is, but for occasional chance, it’s not. Religion will support this erroneous position and in church we will all pray for Mrs. Jones, and her bird’s lumbago?” Thanks to Lazy Sunday Small Faces. Sure enough, the bird is cured. If not, it must “have been pining for the fiords”, Python. Either way, you cannot lose.

    If you had an overbearing father, you will probably think of your god as equally severe. If you had a very nurturing father, you will probably imagine your god in the same light. Sorry to say to our theistic friends that you are making your god to suit your imagination and also based on what you were conditioned and thereby addicted the outcome. Good Luck!

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  • Hi Dan, fortunately I do not know AA personally, but I was referring to the effectiveness of other treatments as they come along with further understanding of the neurological science. Finland and Russia have the highest alcoholism rate in the world, so it is no wonder that alternative treatments are sought after; treatment with Naltrexone is one of them.
    Three medications have been FDA–approved for treating alcohol dependence: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. A fourth, topiramate, is showing encouraging results in clinical trials. Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors that are involved in the rewarding effects of drinking and in the craving for alcohol. It reduces relapse to heavy drinking and is highly effective in some but not all patients—this is likely related to genetic differences. Acamprosate is thought to reduce symptoms of protracted withdrawal, such as insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and dysphoria (an unpleasant or uncomfortable emotional state, such as depression, anxiety, or irritability). It may be more effective in patients with severe dependence. Disulfiram interferes with the degradation of alcohol, resulting in the accumulation of acetaldehyde, which, in turn, produces a very unpleasant reaction that includes flushing, nausea, and palpitations if the patient drinks alcohol. Compliance can be a problem, but among patients who are highly motivated, disulfiram can be very effective.
    BTW, congrats on staying off the booze for 20 years; a rare achievement.

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  • Thanks, Paul, although I don’t know how “rare” 20 years is.
    I have heard a lot of people in AA mention “antabuse” (disulfiram).
    I assure you; that one doesn’t work. They go off it or even drink while on it. You cannot control alcoholism; half measures do not work. There is no way a pill can cure alcoholism (yet; who knows; maybe someday a pill will cure all our ills). Reducing relapsing, for example, is not good enough.
    As for treating withdrawal, that’s something else.
    I wish there were a pill, but I am skeptical, to say the least. It just doesn’t work that way. Alcoholics will drink until they die of liver disease, or after a transplant, will find a a way to drink. They have to surrender (admit that they are powerless over alcohol) and be part of the fellowship. There are some who can quit on their own, but AA is the best thing out there, in my opinion. And I am no amateur.
    Also, I made a good point before. If you stop drinking, you’re still an alcoholic with untreated alcoholism; you will remain unhappy (in the vast majority of cases) and find another addiction to replace the old one with.
    Finland and Russia? What is your point? There is a lot of untreated alcoholism all over the globe. It just means that they are not willing to surrender yet or have some issue with AA or don’t know about it. But AA works just as well for Finnish people and Russians. I knew a Finnish woman in AA, btw.
    She was doing fine, had about 15 years. She picked up a drink and was dead within five years. That is not because she was Finnish; it is because she was “constitutionally incapable of being honest with herself.”
    Not just about drinking and not drinking. Far from it.
    AA works if you work it. (Another slogan. Sorry.)

    Regards, Dan

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  • Having been raised in a Christian cult I can offer some insight on religious addiction. As an adult looking back at family members as well as other cult members that I grew up with and around, I can see a variety of reasons why people become so profoundly attached to religion. Some people just see the world as complex and risky and therefore seek shelter from the complexity, others are hiding from the world for a different reason many, many pedophiles and child abusers of various sorts infested the kingdom halls that I attended, children would be beaten during the meetings, I can vividly recall mentally ill women getting into fist fights at the back of the hall at times, so there you have the mental health issues which are dramatic at least in the religion I grew up in. Other adherents, most I would say were born into poverty with little access to rational knowledge or resources during their early life and religion fills that vacuum, I mean how does a person living in poverty with very little understanding of the world around them say no to a stranger that shows up at their front door and tells them “You Can Live Forever!, all you need to do is read this magazine, turn you back on your family and friends that don’t believe exactly as we instruct you to believe” Of course the downtrodden are going to be attracted to that bait. Fear and guilt however seem to have the greatest hold on people and that deep torturing fear over a lifetime can create a sort of addiction, constantly needing forgiveness for being alive, which is the most saddening part of theistic religion in my opinion, that human beings should be spiritually/psychologically tortured just for being alive.

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  • Alcoholics with legal problems in the U.S. are ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. I define AA as a religious cult. I got a DUI years ago and asked my friend, who was a judge, why do you send people there? They are a cult. He said, “Of course they’re a cult, Dennis. But we have no where else to send them.” AA evolved from a Christian Bible Study group and much of Christianity is still evident in their cult. Despite their claiming they are not a religious program. UHH, yeah, right.

    But there is another avenue. Rational Recovery. Strips away the spiritual nonsense and gets down to brass tacks. If you’re a drunk, you’re immoral. Because it hurts other people. Simple as that. No whiny stuff about having a disease. That’s the culture of victimology. If it was a disease, it is the only one in human history that one gives to oneself with one’s own behavior.

    AA was depressing because people with 10 years sober in AA were still unstable people with messed up lives. Many were just pathetic. I couldn’t see them offering me anything. I didn’t see how praying three times a meeting was helping anyone. Because most of them were always “relapsing.” They would hold hands, and those who opted out of the prayer session would feel left out. I’d leave the room and go to the bathroom. With all of them staring at me.

    AA makes people dependent on others. It does not encourage self-reliance or personal strength. It re-enforces weakness by telling problem drinkers they will never get sober with out them or God. And that agnostics or atheist alcoholics will fail.

    I haven’t had a drink for five years. With out any 12 step program or saying a single prayer. All I needed to convince me to quit was a long license suspension and hefty fines. And I’m doing very well, thank you very much. One more thing. AA people call themselves drunks even when they’ve been sober for years. One stops being a drunk the day they stop drinking. Today I’m not a drunk or an alcoholic and I would take it seriously offensive as to be labeled as such. Outrageous that some one would refer to me as a “Recovering Alcoholic.” I got that the other day and I don’t like it. I’m a recovered problem drinker.

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  • Right on, David. I read a fascinating study years past that said children’s brains are actually physically altered by brainwashing and indoctrination. Wish I could remember the author. It’s ironic that the American religious right is paranoid about radical Muslims when they both have so much in common. Both are ultra-conservative. Both are against gay rights. Both pretend to speak for God. Both want to tell women how to run their lives. If by some impossible scenario Iran adopted our political system the Imams would be evangelical Republicans from Iowa.

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  • “ Everyone on this forum has intellectually chosen their Secular path after a long period of reflection and personal growth

    Actually Dennis not everyone here had that long period of reflection. I’ve been secular since the age of nine when I got kicked out of vacation bible school for asking the inconvenient “why” question usually followed by the “That doesn’t make sense.” (Nine year olds are not very PC and tend to blurt.) But I had an advantage my father protected me from brainwashing until I could think. (Thank the great noodle in the sky.)

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  • Hi Phil,

    Thank you for the positive feedback (Nov 5, 2015 at 11:49 am.)

    I would only add that psychology is dependent upon data and data is dependent upon the use of energy, the doing of work … and the work needs engines.

    Agreed. I thought I said that but, hey!, it bears repetition.

    There can never be an escape into abstraction.

    I will argue that depends on the specific meaning of abstraction that you’re employing.

    I agree that thought cannot be treated as an idea wholly separate from brains – this form of abstraction would be like a Chemist attempting to deny the direct connection of their discipline with atomic physics.

    The other meaning of abstraction; a quality of a discussion on phenomena that ignores an underpinning reality – like a discussion on the manufacture of plastics which makes no reference to the underlying science of Physics – is not only enormously useful, it’s a necessity when considering applicable information in a domain.

    Psychology is just like this, it’s like considering thinking without direct reference to Neurology, or Chemistry without direct reference to Physics.

    As like wot I wrote; advances in Neurology will have a significant effect on Psychology – just as Chemistry was able to better advance with the assumptions implied in the discoveries of atomic physics.

    Psychology is beginning a new age of discovery, and it will not be made redundant by those discoveries.

    I’m sure your right, different, non-drug, treatments for mental disorders like CBT and neural ‘pacemakers’ are likely to multiply. And the therapists will speak psychology, with some new neurological vocabulary – like Chemists discussing electrons, and not vice versa.


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  • I think even I failed to say what I really intended. It is the idea that information in use (when it actually is information and not merely coded and “waiting”) IS energy, no more nor less. The lowest energy a bit of information ever could be in the Universe is 2.7 times Boltzmann’s Constant in Joules, and in a human brain it must be more than 300 times Boltzmann’s Constant in Joules. Transactable information like all forms of energy is NEVER abstract. (By abstraction I mean this.)

    In a brain synapse or the chemical bonds of DNA or the electrons straining to stay clustered on some silicon oxide or electron spin in a magnetic domain information never escapes into abstraction but remains as stored energy. Words on a page or coded onto cards (both of which took energy to achieve) lose entirely those useful attributes of information until rendered again as energy.

    I know this is pedantry but it is easy for folks of a mind to consider disembodied minds or aspects of minds a thing. I wanted Dan not to miss this bit of physics. Abstraction, is simply thermodynamically impossible. (Thinking that thought cost 3.7 millijoules at my body temperature. And this feeling of satisfaction at coming to an end 2.5 millijoules.)

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  • In a brain

    I welcome the feedback and the instruction, but thought can be defined as an abstraction as opposed to a perception.
    That is not unlike Hume’s famous distinction between Ideas and Impressions. Would you agree, my dear Stephen, and Phil, that seeing a red balloon (or whatever) right in front of you and “thinking” red balloon is different? The latter is a reflection. (Good word.)
    What an abstract thought is in a scientifically precise sense is not clear to me; but those two forms of thought are not one and the same thing; it is important not to get them mixed up with each other.
    Same with Causality. When you see something happening, you can be sure that it is impossible to conceive of it happening outside the chain of causality – a law of the mind. Then later, if you reflect upon this process, which is actually a form of thought (causality), or write about it (as I am doing now) one must use a concept or word (abstract thought) in order to communicate.
    Perceptions are not abstract thoughts and abstract thoughts are not in themselves perceptions – although they often refer to them.
    The “underpinning of reality” cannot be directly apprehended by either means, although a perception is always much closer to the thing itself in question.
    Phil, perhaps you can explain what knowledge of something is, in a scientific sense. What makes something what it is and how can we know that that is what it is and not something merely appearing to us?

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  • Dan
    Nov 14, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    In a brain

    Perceptions are not abstract thoughts and abstract thoughts are not in themselves perceptions – although they often refer to them.

    Perceptions are just thoughts resulting from mentally processing the input from our senses – (eyes, ears, touch, smell, taste).

    The “underpinning of reality” cannot be directly apprehended by either means, although a perception is always much closer to the thing itself in question.

    Thoughts are mental models constructed from inputs – with the most accurate models coming from multiple inputs and enhanced inputs using instruments to extend the scope and scale of perceptions.
    Scientific methodology uses independent checking by independent persons to reduce errors and biases. Scientists consult each other for feedback.

    However, as Phil says: thought processes are physical with chemical molecules, so if interfering drugs displace the neurotransmitters which operate the switching in our synapses, the psychedelic false images in the mind of the addict or tripper, seem just as real to them as an objectively mapped image based on accurate input from our senses.
    Indeed – they can perceive the interference and distortion, AS inputs from their senses!

    Here is a link which explains how it works.
    It includes a simple animation of Neurotransmitter Mobilization showing chemical messages crossing a synapse to pass a message on along a nerve.
    Psychoactive drugs can also distort messages on internal brain circuits.

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  • Alan4discussion
    Nov 14, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    I appreciate your patience and willingness to point me in the right direction, Alan, but I still don’t see how you can say that perceptions are are “just thoughts resulting from mentally processing the input from our senses – (eyes, ears, touch, smell, taste).”

    That’s what they are, but take that away and what do we have?

    Everything that we can say or know about any phenomena refers back or points to some form of perception, does it not? Even if we are interpreting data, that data is still interpreted as external, and that very externality presupposes the mind and its (I’ll say it again) subjective aspect.

    I apologize if I appear stubborn or obtuse, but here is a question I just asked Phil:

    Perhaps you can explain what constitutes knowledge of what something is, in a scientific sense. (And what is “is”?) What makes something what it is and how can we know that that is what it is and not something merely appearing to us? For surely that which appears is not what that something is, although there is a deep connection.

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  • Refutation of Bishop Berkeley
    After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”

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  • Dan
    Nov 14, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    I appreciate your patience and willingness to point me in the right direction, Alan, but I still don’t see how you can say that perceptions are are “just thoughts resulting from mentally processing the input from our senses – (eyes, ears, touch, smell, taste).”

    They can be internal processes too.

    That’s what they are, but take that away and what do we have?

    No mental activity at all without functioning synapses, and no external input without sensory organs.

    Everything that we can say or know about any phenomena refers back or points to some form of perception, does it not?

    No! It can be entirely or substantially, internally formed from false and distorted images, generated by psychoactive drugs, psychotic processes, hormones, or imagination.

    That is why I included the link on the synapse, and the corruption of information in neurological circuits by psychoactive drugs and neurotoxins.

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  • What makes something what it is and how can we know that that is what
    it is and not something merely appearing to us?

    Hi Dan!

    This is an honest-to-God serious question: Can you please tell me why it matters?

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  • We are not our brains any more than we are our stomachs or our livers. Just an organ.
    This is an interesting question: what is the Self? What is character? The brain (the seat of knowledge) is the medium of motives. The will is not in the brain. What we will is and what we know are two distinct things, or at least I always thought they were.

    And earlier

    It is possible that psychology is primary; the conditions associated with our brains, particularly from a neurological standpoint, are a symptom, as opposed to the cause. Neurons (?) are themselves causes, but the cause behind the cause is something psychological, not physiological.

    This was the reason I came back to underwrite twice Stephen’s comment to you and why I chose to define abstract in the way I did. Whilst we can talk of abstract thoughts remembering the red balloon or abstract concepts like money or justice they all require the physical reality of energy in the form of transactable information to have an existence. The red balloon however simply has a physical reality, perceived or not. Perceptions also entail the physical reality of energy in the form of information. The initial information of perceived balloons in brains through two evolutionary processes (developed on time scales of maybe 400 million years and of an individual’s 4 years) will go on to generate meta-data of edges, linked edges then shapes and in parallel colours finally co-opting culturally (mutually) derived meta-data of categories, balloon, red. “Abstract” ideas like justice exist as real patterns of energy in heads, congruent to a degree in their form or at least their effect. My feeling in need of a Talisker is another pattern of energy I might induce similar forms of in a few other heads…

    Phil, perhaps you can explain what knowledge of something is, in a scientific sense

    As a child briefly I understood what thunder was as my mum explained how clouds bumped into each other. I understood perfectly. My dad quickly re-explained a month or so later that it was the echoey sound of a loud spark and showed me some tiny sparks to hear the noise and imagine. He also had me note clouds never bump into each other no matter how long you watch then. I understood again perfectly. At university I did plasma physics and could write the equations that governed high pressure discharges and derive the energy distribution in a lightning flash and model the heat input to the air, the rate of expansion of the plasma, the size of the pressure pulse and the resultant acoustic energy. I was moving towards a much deeper understanding that would allow me to model the world around me and given enough input data predict what would happen in the world. As I mastered things through mathematical modelling I no longer had quite the immediate sense of familiarity that bumping clouds managed to elicit. Why should like charges repel causing ambi-polar diffusion out of the arc centre and what was charge and what is this electric field thing anyway accelerating ions and electrons? They all have equations, so I can predict all that they do like some lesser god and slowly the sense of familiarity is leaking back…

    What makes something what it is and how can we know that that is what it is and not something merely appearing to us?

    You can’t know you are in the Matrix or a holographic projection from the edge of space, not if the apparent behaviour of energy and fields is all the same and the maths is all consistent, but frankly who cares? This is fatuous knowledge, cannot broaden our understanding in any meaningfull way, and we have an enormous amount to still discover about this Matrix or Projection or as it more really and parsimoniously appears, this wriggly, insanely complex set of fields, tense with energy and having the superficial appearance of rocks and sunshine and my morning-fresh stubble….

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  • Beautifully told Phil. I can’t understand why Dan cannot see the beauty of what you describe and seems to be stuck with dodgy philosophy.

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  • Olgun, Kantian and Schopenhauerian idealism is not solipsism. I have explained this on this site in various threads and don’t have the energy to go into it again. But trust me.
    Berkeley was the father of idealism. But that was idealism in its infancy.

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  • Vicki
    Nov 14, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Hi, Vicki,

    How’s my favorite member doing? (You sound nice and super smart – and coming from me that latter observation is quite a compliment. Modest, aren’t I? )

    The question you ask is one that get asked a lot. Oh boy. Not easy. The whole question as to what the precise limits of the human mind are is bound up with other questions.

    I suppose I am a transcendentalist after all.

    In my opinion, science can (in some instances) be as dogmatic as religion. Critical idealism (true idealism) has taught “us” that that if there is a knowable thing-in-itself then there is no room for anything “spiritual.” There can be no morality without compassion. Compassion or sympathy (which not everyone can feel) implies identification with the suffering of others. That identification implies a uniting principle. There is something that unites us all. That has to be metaphysical. I refuse to ‘believe’ that sympathy is not something metaphysical. Not everything is the frigging brain. I wish I had the time to elaborate more.

    There are other ramifications associated with rejection of the thing-in-itself as unknowable. Kant’s philosophy, by the way, is good for atheism. That may seem paradoxical but it isn’t. Metaphysics is not necessarily religion.

    As Kant said:

    “Criticism alone can strike a blow at the root of materialism, fatalism, […] free-thinking, fanaticism, and superstition, which are universally injurious – as well as of idealism [solipsism]and skepticism.”

    You really should read Kant’s famous introduction to his Critique. He explains why it is important to establish what we can and cannot know. He wanted to rid the world of “freethinking and [undue] skepticism,” modes of thinking that presuppose or lead to a crass materialism! He also wanted to rid us of “fanaticism and dogmatism.” The point of departure for gaining enlightenment (which I can’t get into now; it would take too much time for me to write and for you to read) requires a purification, if you will, of the mind. To start from the object and forget the subject (which is something most people do) bars the way to a true understanding of the nature of reality, the empirically real, and is one of many obstacles that make the acquisition of a spiritual quality of life impossible.

    There I said it: “spiritual.” Now I’ll be a laughing stock on this site.

    The above comments were written very quickly. I am exceedingly busy now. I wish, as I said, that I had more time. I did not do justice to my own ideas.

    See you later.

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  • Dan,

    Following on from Vicki’s question

    What makes something what it is and how can we know that that is what
    it is and not something merely appearing to us?

    Hi Dan!
    This is an honest-to-God serious question: Can you please tell me why it matters?

    which you failed to answer I think, I think, also, you make a ton of assertions without evidence and betray some curious biases. Three for now.

    Did you know Popper (who angered Wittgenstein famously…the poker incident) restored metaphysics to science as a proper tool for forming hypotheses? This is exactly what David Chalmers was doing. Charm and Strangeness were metaphysics once. Proposals outside of current science need to be made in the hope of extending science. The hypotheses are in no way constrained.

    Why can’t compassion arise in my brain? Its imperfections and prospects of improvement suggest exactly that its mediated by something that grows up and changes and is sometimes fallible.

    Most neuro-psychologists believe cognitions are embodied (whole body experiences) and even some (including me) think they are “situated”, i.e. dependent upon cultural context…as well.

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  • Wow so many comments. I really hope that opposing religion is not also an addiction.
    I find I can get far too involved with it. I really find it hard not to laugh or ridicule as some say, when I hear some religious or supernatural beliefs being espoused.
    But if this really is ‘addiction’ then maybe I should be more sympathetic.
    My usual stance in dealing with those of religious inclination is to simply treat it as complete rubish and not give it a moments credibility. As if Chistianity, Islam ect. were only just thought of at that moment and it was just a tentative idea they had just come up with.
    It’s quite interesting to see how many just give in at that point when they defer to what appears to be a majority non believing veiw. Even though at that moment they can only really be sure it is just what I think.
    The wish to fit in with everyone else is maybe the real addiction. Religion is just the symptom.

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  • Yes I whole heartedly agree with Willow. I did not have much ‘reflection’, by the time I got to about nine years old it just seemed b…..y obvious.
    I did get suspicious at four years old when I had been told “God knew everything”. So I asked the Vicar at our church if he could ask God what caused me to be aware of my own existence and self.
    When neither he or God could come up with an answer he actually had the honesty to say that maybe I needed to wait till I was older and study something called philosophy and perhaps I was asking him something he couldn’t anwser.
    Anyway by nine I had written off god (s) and ended up doing Engineering. Have just got back to self awareness with some of Sam Harris’s books. But it seems we still don’t quite have the answer to my question at four years old.

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  • The red balloon however simply has a physical reality, perceived or

    I don’t doubt that it has a reality, perceived or not, but if it isn’t red and isn’t a balloon and isn’t perceived what kind of reality are we talking about? Is energy the thing-in-itself? is it matter? What is this physical entity that can hardly be said to be an entity?

    This is your mistake … and dodgy science? (I have nothing but the profoundest respect for science, and for you as well, btw.)

    We’re both dodgy in our own way.

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  • Hi Phil,

    I think I failed to say what I really intended. It is the idea that information in use (when it actually is information and not merely coded and “waiting”) IS energy, no more nor less.

    That seems logical, and well evidenced.

    Transactable information like all forms of energy is NEVER abstract. (By abstraction I mean this.)

    I think I see what you mean. A word of warning: I have sat through many fruitless hours of discussion – including with a friend who’s doctoral thesis was on artificial intelligence – on the difference between data and information.

    I say “fruitless” because none of those discussions reached a useful conclusion. Most people can see a difference between data, stored factual points (usually stored as base two numbers) analogous, I tentatively suggest, to your transactables – and information which is something more, data with context on which a body can make a decision. But deciding at which point this transformation takes place is very difficult, even though we’re only discussing a definition.

    You can, of course, equate the pre-decision state of the body as being reducible to transactables (i.e. data) – and that data will be stored as energy states, I have no argument with your description. This will include the relationships between the stored numbers, the programs and their logic, the operating parameters and so on.

    Nevertheless, information as a set of entities that transcend data are identifiable – albeit lacking an agreed objective delineation.

    I know this is pedantry …

    Oh well, birds of a feather and all that.

    … but it is easy for folks of a mind to consider disembodied minds or aspects of minds a thing.

    I see. Well you and I have no argument then.

    I wanted Dan not to miss this bit of physics. Abstraction, is simply thermodynamically impossible. (Thinking that thought cost 3.7 millijoules at my body temperature. And this feeling of satisfaction at coming to an end 2.5 millijoules.)

    It seems to me, and I’m not singling out Dan, that many people confuse abstraction with something more than an idea. Abstractions are human concepts for describing information (as opposed to data).

    The same people, by and large, also appear to misunderstand transcendence. The truly transcendent can only emerge from the simple. This is one of the more esoteric and beautiful lessons that evolution via natural selection teaches us. Not only the beauty of nature, but the emergent brains that are capable of experiencing transcendence when gathering in the data of direct experience of the natural world, are the results of increasing complexity over time.

    Lest we forget: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” – Phillip K. Dick

    To posit the opposite – that reality is a product or sideline of transcendence – is not only to deny the evidence it’s also wishful thinking promoted to the level of denial of reality.

    I have used the concept of emergence to try and shine a light on the way in which a Universe as complex as ours delivers transcendence and abstraction. An excellent article by the Nobel Laureate Phillip W. Anderson (pub. in Science 1972) contains the following:

    [Anderson] The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. At each level of complexity entirely new properties appear. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry. We can now see that the whole becomes not merely more, but very different from the sum of its parts.

    Anderson was complaining of how the project of Science is often misinterpreted. Reductionist does not equate to Constructionist, because the Universe is much too big and complex.

    Psychology can be understood as an emergent property of neurobiology, as previously discussed, but that does not make the emergence of information from transactable data a reversible model. It is not possible, if we allow for Anderson, to describe a subject’s neurology from their psychology, except in the most general terms, because there are so many variables that the complexity takes over.

    This is, I will presume, what Richard Dawkins is referring to when he says that if you rewind the tape (record) of evolution and set it off again you’ll get a different World because in a vast universe chaos happens. Just how different the new World would be is open to question. With Emergence and Self-Organization in play it seems to me that some aspects of the new World would still be recognisable to us.

    Emergence is a concept, little more than a descriptive tool, and not a scientific hypothesis, let alone a theory. Even so, it seems safe to say that emergence of psychology from neurology may be indicating that the observed traits of compulsion, including religious compulsion, are a transcendent form that emerges from the complexities of the interplay between individual psychologies in groups. There is a precedent for this – emergence is used to describe how we get free market economics from psychology. Think of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

    I understand, Phil, your desire to ensure that no-one goes away with the idea that the abstract is anything more than a useful way to describe higher level properties that emerge from simpler precursors. It’s a worthy goal.

    On the other hand, I cannot let go of the need to help people understand that Darwin’s big idea is what leads to an understanding of true transcendence.


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  • Stephen, how is my esteemed co-member doing? I agree with everything my hero Dawkins says about evolution and about atheism, but this issue of the thing-in-itself has been a fixation of mine for many years, and that is not something that either he nor Darwin addresses, as far as I know. (Or or Nor? Never got that.)
    I have never said that an abstraction is anything other than an idea. From an earlier post:
    “Would you agree, my dear Stephen, and Phil, that seeing a red balloon (or whatever) right in front of you and “thinking” red balloon as an idea is different? The latter is a reflection. (Good word.)
    What an abstract thought is in a scientifically precise sense is not clear to me; but those two forms of thought are not one and the same thing; it is important not to get them mixed up with each other.
    Philip Dick’s remark is senseless, and reality is not a product of transcendence. Equally senseless.
    Read Schopenhauer and then maybe you’ll understand what I have been unable to successfully communicate in this forum.
    I thought I nailed it with this one, however.

    The red balloon however simply has a physical reality, perceived or
    not. – Phil R.

    I don’t doubt that it has a reality, perceived or not, but if it isn’t red and isn’t a balloon and isn’t perceived what kind of reality are we talking about? Is energy the thing-in-itself? is it matter? What is this physical entity that can hardly be said to be an entity?

    This is your mistake … and dodgy science? (I have nothing but the profoundest respect for science, and for you as well, btw.)

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  • You mentioned transcendence. Here’s a nice description. Try topping this. (LOL)

    (Enlightened perception):

    “Raised up by the power of mind, we relinquish the ordinary way of considering things, and cease to follow merely their relations to one another, whose final goal is always the relation to our own will. Thus we no longer consider the where, the when, the why, and the whither in things, but simply and solely the what. Further, we do not let abstract thought, the concepts of reason, take possession of our consciousness, but instead of all this, devote the whole power of our mind to perception, sink ourselves completely therein, and let our whole consciousness be filled by the calm contemplation of the natural object actually present, whether it be a landscape, a tree, a rock, a crag, a building, or anything else. We lose ourselves entirely in this object, to use a pregnant expression; in other words, we forget our individuality, our will, and continue to exist only as pure subject, as clear mirror of the object, so that it is as though the object alone existed without anyone to perceive it, and thus we are no longer able to separate the perceiver from the perception, but the two have become one. since the entire consciousness is filled and occupied by a single image of perception. If, therefore, the object has to such an extent passed out of all relation to something outside it, and the subject has passed out of all relation to the will, what is thus known is no longer the individual thing as such, but the Idea, the eternal form, the immediate objectivity of the will at this grade. Thus at the same time, the person who is involved in this perception is no longer an individual, for in such perception the individual has lost himself; he is pure will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.” (Schopenhauer, WWR, Vol. I)

    Phil mentioned compassion as “coming from the brain.” Here’s another description of what’s involved, from the sage himself – me…no, Schopenhauer (…and me. I am a sage too. Yup.) These two conceptions ( of enlightened perception and compassion) are interrelated in so far as they both require a breaking through. Time, space, and causality must be relinquished. and tin the case of compassion, the principium individuationis (the wall of physicality that separates self and other) must be annihilated, if but for a moment. But if you don’t think there is anything to break through you’ll never get it. This is from the greatest work on Ethics / Morality ever written: On the Basis of Morality, by Schopenhauer.

    “From these propositions the following conclusion is obvious : The weal and woe, which (according to our third axiom) must, as its ultimate object, lie at the root of everything done, or left undone, is either that of the doer himself, or that of some other person, whose role with reference to the action is passive. Conduct in the first case is necessarily egoistic, as it is impelled by an interested motive. And this is not only true when men as they nearly always do plainly shape their acts for their own profit and advantage; it is equally true when from anything done we expect some benefit to ourselves, no matter how remote, whether in this or in another world. Nor is it less the fact when our honour, our good name, or the wish to win the respect of someone, the sympathy of the onlookers, etc., is the object we have in view; or when our intention is to uphold a rule of conduct, which, if generally followed, would occasionally be useful to ourselves, for instance, the principle of justice, of mutual succour and aid, and so forth. Similarly, the proceeding is at bottom egoistic, when a man considers it a prudent step to obey some absolute command issued by an unknown, but evidently supreme power; for in such a case nothing can be the motive but fear of the disastrous consequences of disobedience, however generally and indistinctly these may be conceived. Nor is it a whit the less Egoism that prompts us when we endeavour to emphasise, by something done or left undone, the high opinion (whether distinctly realised or not) which we have of ourselves, and of our value or dignity; for the diminution of self-satisfaction, which might otherwise occur, would involve the wounding of our pride. Lastly, it is still Egoism that is operative, when a man, following Wolff’s principles, seeks by his conduct to work out his own perfection. In short, one may make the ultimate incentive to an action what one pleases; it will always turn out, no matter by how circuitous a path, that in the last resort what affects the actual weal and woe of the agent himself is the real motive; consequently what he does is egoistic, and therefore without moral worth. There is only a single case in which this fails to happen: namely, when the ultimate incentive for doing something, or leaving it undone, is precisely and exclusively centred in the weal and woe of someone else, who plays a passive part; that is to say, when the person on the active side, by what he does, or omits to do, simply and solely regards the weal and woe of another, and has absolutely no other object than to benefit him, by keeping harm from his door, or, it may be, even by affording help, assistance, and relief. It is this aim alone that gives to what is done, or left undone, the stamp of moral worth; which is thus seen to depend exclusively on the circumstance that the act is carried out, or omitted, purely for the benefit and advantage of another. If and when this is not so, then the question of weal and woe which incites to, or deters from, every action contemplated, can only relate to the agent himself; whence its performance, or non-performance is entirely egoistic, and without moral value.

    “But if what I do is to take place solely on account of someone else; then it follows that his weal and woe must directly constitute my motive; just as, ordinarily, my own weal and woe form it. This narrows the limits of our problem, which may now be stated as follows: how is it possible that another’s weal and woe should influence my will directly, that is, exactly in the same way as otherwise my own moves it? How can that which affects another for good or bad become my immediate motive, and actually sometimes assume such importance that it more or less supplants my own interests, which are, as a rule, the single source of the incentives that appeal to me? Obviously, only because that other person becomes the ultimate object of my will, precisely as usually I myself am that object; in other words, because I directly desire weal, and not woe, for him, just as habitually I do for myself. This, however, necessarily implies that I suffer with him, and feel his woe, exactly as in most cases I feel only mine, and therefore desire his weal as immediately as at other times I desire only my own. But, for this to be possible, I must in some way or other be identified with him; that is, the difference between myself and him, which is the precise raison d’etre of my Egoism, must be removed, at least to a certain extent. Now, since I do not live in his skin, there remains only the knowledge, that is, the mental picture, I have of him, as the possible means where- by I can so far identify myself with him, that my action declares the difference to be practically effaced. The process here analysed is not a dream, a fancy floating in the air; it is perfectly real, and by no means infrequent. It is, what we see every day, the phenomenon of Compassion [Mitleid]; in other words, the direct participation, independent of all ulterior considerations, in the sufferings of another, leading to sympathetic assistance in the effort to prevent or remove them; whereon in the last resort all satisfaction and all well-being and happiness depend. It is this Compassion alone which is the real basis of all voluntary justice and all genuine loving-kindness. Only so far as an action springs therefrom, has it moral value; and all conduct that proceeds from any other motive whatever has none. When once compassion is stirred within me, by another’s pain, then his weal and woe go straight to my heart, exactly in the same way, if not always to the same degree, as otherwise I feel only my own. Consequently the difference between myself and him is no longer an absolute one.

    “No doubt this operation is astonishing, indeed hardly comprehensible. It is, in fact, the great mystery of Ethics, its original phenomenon, and the boundary stone, past which only transcendental speculation may dare to take a step. Herein we see the wall of partition, which, according to the light of nature (as reason is called by old theologians), entirely separates being from being, broken down, and the non-ego to a certain extent identified with the ego. I wish for the moment to leave the metaphysical explanation of this enigma untouched, and first to inquire whether all acts of voluntary justice and true loving-kindness really arise from it. If so, our problem will be solved, for we shall have found the ultimate basis of morality, and shown that it lies in human nature itself. This foundation, however, in its turn cannot form a problem of Ethics, but rather, like every other ultimate fact as such, of Metaphysics.”

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  • @Stephen.

    data, information, abstraction, emergence.

    Super thanks for your post. Semantics is so often the stumbling block for clear speaking. It would have been better to produce a glossary of my particular terminology, information and transactable information etc.

    The muddling of abstract thought with, say, non-material Platonic forms, was what I wanted to nail. An abstract thought is an energetic brainstate that signals a categorical (say) inference. It is meta-data. Data about data is the abstracting process signalled. Platonic forms like the construct Justice or the Laws of the Universe die with brains. Laws of the Universe are observational not dirigiste.

    I now avoid like the plague the term emergence because it looks like a cheap trick to cover an incapacity to model a system. I think in the years to come we will find the maths and the mental prosthetics to help us see into complex systems in ueful and revealing ways. I think we may even be able to model alternate presents. The work of Andreas Wagner on the unexpected size and form of the various solution spaces available to evolution for instance shows how readily an alternate solution can be found like the solution actually found and how this hugely increased facility for solutions might increase the probability of something very close to us in re-run races.

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  • @Stephen

    On the other hand, I cannot let go of the need to help people understand that Darwin’s big idea is what leads to an understanding of true transcendence.

    I want to take a crack at that, and have in much earlier posts, but its a big thing and needs careful building.

    As Dennett has it Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is positively magisterial in it import, it may even underlie the generation of much of our thought, the myriad failed “drafts” that fail salience tests fail to make it into our conscious awareness.

    Principles of random partial change subject to a utility sieve, coupled with Hebbian coincidence reinforcement and Bayesian sieving and the proto-purpose of homeostasis may be all the principles we need to see the development of inferential brains. And as complexity arises the assembly is removed from the risk of stopping from input overload by using feedback to keep us operating just a step back from chaos and the use of emotion as a chemical bath to facilitate global threshold changes.

    For all this “merely this” and “just that” I think it needs a book. I’d love to write it one day….

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  • Get angry at the dealers. Get angry at the drug. Get angry at the pushers. Get angry at the users who try to get you to try a little. Get angry at those who use it to further other wrong doings. Be sympathetic to only those that show humility.

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  • Is energy the thing-in-itself? is it matter? What is this physical entity that can hardly be said to be an entity?

    The way we can understand it most completely is as “a bunch of fields, tense with energy”. We have this bunch of equations that allow us to describe how these energetic fields interacts with the universe (all the other fields), observed or not.

    I can describe the characteristics of some fields metaphorically (magnetic fields are like nested elastic bands that dislike each other). That does a surprisingly good job when simulated to “explain” how they behave when interacting, but the maths is the best most rigorous metaphor we’ve got. Understanding runs out but mastery (of sorts) may remain.

    The mistake?

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  • Hi Dan,

    This conversation is moving too far from the original thread. I’ll post this response but then I think we should draw a line under this as it’s a tangent too far from the OP link between psychology and religious faith. As before, feel free to have the final word if you wish.

    You mentioned transcendence. Here’s a nice description. Try topping this. (Enlightened perception): (Schopenhauer, WWR, Vol. I)

    The description Schopenhauer gives is self-indulgent, self-centred and self-absorbed.

    From the perspective of this truth seeker: Schopenhauer is offering his personal experience – untestable, unknowable, unverifiable … unhelpful. That’s the polite version.

    Phil mentioned compassion as “coming from the brain.” Here’s another description of what’s involved, from [a] sage … These two conceptions (of enlightened perception and compassion) are interrelated in so far as they both require a breaking through. Time, space, and causality must be relinquished and in the case of compassion, the principium individuationis (the wall of physicality that separates self and other) must be annihilated, if but for a moment.

    Yeah, more of the same.

    This time, however, the ‘Sage’ breaks cover and talks of things we know something about, like time and space, and completely ignores that knowledge. As entities that live in Middle Earth (Middle Earth: in Einsteinian spacetime, and in the realm of chemistry) we are ruled by the four dimensions directly accessible to us and by cause and effect, we cannot “break through” that reality.

    We may, through thought, transcend our immediate understanding and this has proved invaluable – revealing the true nature of spacetime beyond our direct experience, and this is just one example (Phil and I discussed the OP relevant consequences for psychology), but we remain creatures of Middle Earth.

    What to make of such an egregious error? Well Schopenhauer was a man of his time (the turn of the 19C) so let’s be charitable. He’s just out-of-date.

    But if you don’t think there is anything to break through you’ll never get it.

    Oh okay, I’ll stop now.

    Just kidding. But my time is limited today so I’ll cut to the end.

    [Extract] On the Basis of Morality, by Schopenhauer: “No doubt this operation is astonishing, indeed hardly comprehensible. It is, in fact, the great mystery of Ethics, its original phenomenon, and the boundary stone, past which only transcendental speculation may dare to take a step.

    We could, as is normal in philosophy, argue for a long time on the validity of Schopenhauer’s journey to that conclusion, and that would provide important context. However I feel morally entitled to ignore that process as I’ve already summarised my position on the long quotes above – he’s basically doing what I always suspected and producing Jayne Mansfield lobsters (Warning: Those of a sensitive disposition are strongly advised not to search this term, if you don’t know what this means it involves his behind, seriously, you can guess).

    In a previous thread I concluded that reading Schopenhauer would be a waste of my time. Your extensive quotes have not changed that perception so thanks (is that right, should I thank you … ?) … I think.

    [Schopenhauer] Herein we see the wall of partition, which, according to the light of nature (as reason is called by old theologians), entirely separates being from being, broken down, and the non-ego to a certain extent identified with the ego.

    It’s difficult to argue with someone as conceited as Schopenhauer appears to be. It becomes even more troublesome when they’re discussing ego, and he’s clearly an expert.

    The theological ‘light of nature’ as an analog for a wall of separation … okay … let’s just ride this wave and see where it takes us.

    [Schopenhauer] I wish for the moment to leave the metaphysical explanation of this enigma untouched …

    Surely that would be the very substance of ‘light of nature’ theology? As to an enigma well, Schopenhauer created (see what I did there) the idea that he’s discussing an ultimate – the phenomenon – so of course he’s tempted to suggest that he’s found a portal to a metaphysical realm. (sigh)

    [Schopenhauer] … and first to inquire whether all acts of voluntary justice and true loving-kindness really arise from it.

    Altruism, the favourite subject of evolutionary ethologists (like Richard Dawkins). We have an explanation for this, we no longer need philosophical speculations. Again, it seems to me that Schopenhauer is superseded – he’s out of time. I believe it was Phil, in another thread, who said that (paraphrase) ‘Philosophy is what we, properly, do when we have no other way to answer questions’. Right on Phil.

    To summarise: The transcendent nature of justice and love emerges from the simpler components of the necessity to assist relatives and tribal contemporaries. These in turn emerge from the requirement to survive and reproduce – as we discussed using the examples of muscles and brains.

    Our experience of justice and love are, and not coincidentally, extraordinary. Yet, as Phil has said, we must not lose sight of the fact that those lowly origins remain within us and continue to underpin this reality. We cannot have the high without the low. The Rain Forest still needs worms. We cannot have justice without biochemistry.

    We may discuss Justice and Love in the abstract – our transcendent abilities allow us to do that – but we must never fall into the trap of thinking that this makes Justice and Love, themselves, abstract. No, Justice and Love are real parts of the real World.

    [Schopenhauer] If so, our problem will be solved, for we shall have found the ultimate basis of morality, and shown that it lies in human nature itself.

    That’s an extraordinary claim. For that I require extraordinary evidence. I have received none and I have, to my own satisfaction at least, been generous in my interpretation of the material provided.

    If Schopenhauer were discussing evolution through natural selection we would be in exact agreement. He isn’t of course, and there’s the rub. Schopenhauer, as far as I can tell from your extensive quotes, extrapolates from philosophical speculation based on his personal view of what he can conclude from his own internal stream of consciousness. If I’d been a contemporary of his, at the end of the 18C, I might have thought that interesting. I can give him no more credit than that.

    [Schopenhauer] This foundation, however, in its turn cannot form a problem of Ethics, but rather, like every other ultimate fact as such, of Metaphysics.

    Whatever dude. Look whenever someone says “ultimate” my skeptical Potential Problem Detector blows a gasket, and placing your conclusion beyond normal avenues of enquiry? We’ve seen that before, and never in a good light.


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  • Wow! Such contempt. That’s okay. I am interested in reading about the moral feeling of identification from a Darwinian / biological perspective.
    I doubt whether that phenomenon itself is altogether different than what Schopenhauer described. He didn’t get into the physiology of it – just what we do, what happens, when we are able to feel real sympathy. How could it not be some form of identification? And if the Will as he puts it (which he had observed in himself and applied to all of nature) is outside the sphere of empirical observation, yet must exist, and is indeed a uniting principle, why shouldn’t that identification be characterized as metaphysical? That’s his right as a thinker. (It’s more than a right; it was his duty, his obligation as an educator.) The Will as thing-in-itself is far more profound and worthy of serious consideration than you can imagine – otherwise you would not employ that tone that you revel in. Why not at least try to understand what the man is saying? You clearly have not read him and will probably never read him. Thou dost protest…
    And he didn’t imply that we all have this in “our nature”; most people are egotists, self-interested, enclosed. That’s why he referred to these exceptional instances as astonishing. He was a pessimist.
    He did say that morality is an innate disposition, however, as is immorality.
    I can’t present these concepts here and expect you to embrace them. I just thought you might enjoy a different perspective (and one that might not be entirely at odds with Darwin).
    S. influenced Darwin and Freud (another outdated old fool, right?) If you were to ask Darwin about S. he’d probably say he was a great sage. That’s my hunch.
    In any case ––
    P.S. Do you like my new photo?

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  • And if the Will as he puts it (which he had observed in himself and
    applied to all of nature) is outside the sphere of empirical
    observation, yet must exist…

    I know this is inconsistent. I’ll save you the trouble of pointing that out. He didn’t “observe” the will itself; he observed his hand raising (and describes this in Volume I of his chief work) and took it from there.

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  • Understanding runs out but mastery (of sorts) may remain.

    The mistake is saying that a red balloon has a physical reality, perceived or not – and not acknowledging, at the very least, that there is a problem to consider. You say “bunch of fields, tense with energy.” So describe this. Ah, you already have. “Bunch” “Tense.” “Fields.” “Energy.” (Those sound a lot like perceptions!)

    I still can form no idea of what this morphed balloon is. Take away redness. (No eye) Take away balloon. (No words or concepts) Take away shape and size. (No perception)
    So the balloon is what now? What is it? Again, is this unperceived cluster of tense fields of energy a red balloon in itself? Is that the essence of the balloon?

    This must be frustrating for you, Phil. I’m sorry.

    Phil, can you recommend a good book on physics and one on astrophysics and maybe a nice book that explains Einstein’s theory of space/time and relativity? Is there a writer like Dawkins in the area of physics? (No one, except maybe Asimov, is as good at writing about science for non-scientists as Dawkins, but maybe there is someone like him.)

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  • Are the equations perceptions?

    Once in the realm of mathematics, given we have captured our equations aright, we can actually prove our mathematical “argument” right or wrong. Thats unique for what you hold as a “perception”. These are the highest quality “arguments” we can conceive.

    So the balloon is what now? What is it?

    Its is the cause of its effect on its surroundings.

    Are you sure you don’t mean to invoke the Quantum Observer here?

    Wiki it up. It doesn’t take a person to kill Schroedingers cat.

    This isn’t frustrating, Dan. I’m afraid I feel the loss is yours.

    I’ve answered your book request elsewhere. I’m trying to think of possible goodies, its just that I don’t read many physics books now, and certainly not general ones. Now about neuro-science, psychology, abiogenesis, genetic theory, the history of science, I could keep you busy and blow your socks off with marvels….

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