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Spirituality, Religion and Psychiatry – Time for Better Integration

My doctorate was in Psychology and Religion, so this topic is very close to me. I’ve been advocating for better integration among several different fields for decades (see my initial thesis proposal, 1991-92). It’s nice when you see culture finally catching up.

English: Pink Floyd performing at Live 8 in London

Pink Floyd performing at Live 8 in London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was tempted to say “duh” at the end of the above tweet. But that’s only because I’ve met with such mindless, brainwashed and sometimes nasty thinking over the years on this topic.

Choosing to drop the cynicism, however, I just posted the tweet without the “duh.”

As the old Pink Floyd song goes. “We don’t need no dark sarcasm… in the classroom.” I have encountered my fair share. Don’t want to be “just another brick in the wall.”

Some folks become proverbial bricks in the wall out of ignorance. Other choose. In either case, it’s time to peacefully dismantle that ideological wall of ignorance.

 Album Review: ORPHANED LAND Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs (metalinjection.net)


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The Oedipus Complex – Do adult ogres have unresolved stuff from childhood?

Antoni Brodowski – Oedipus and Antigone – Google Art Project via Wikipedia

In Greek myth Oedipus was the king of Thebes who did his best to avoid a prophecy saying he would kill his father and marry his mother. Like most good tales about knowing the future, Oedipus inadvertently fulfills the prophecy by trying to avoid it.

We see this a lot in sci-fi with time-loop stories. The protagonist does everything possible to avoid a bad outcome but in doing so becomes part of the thread leading to that unwanted outcome.

A lot of people know about Oedipus but the old Greek tale…

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 UIW Theatre – Antigone (uiw.uloop.com)

 Graham and Freud (bibliolore.org)

 Hero (earthpages.wordpress.com)

 An Oedipus Retelling (rogueclassicism.com)

 Secret vault discovered underneath Amphipolis tomb (dailymail.co.uk)

 Oedipus Simplex (psychologytoday.com)

 Greek-American Filmmaker Screens Documentary at Boston University (usa.greekreporter.com)


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Religion isn’t the enemy of science: it’s been inspiring scientists for centuries

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God’s scientific lesson for Job.
William Blake
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Tom McLeish, Durham University

Take notice of any debate in the media and you’ll see that science and religion are, and always were, at loggerheads. Science is about evidence-based fact, religion is about faith-based belief.

But repeating statements endlessly in the media doesn’t make them true. The actual entanglements of religious tradition and the development of science are far more interesting than the superficial conflict common today – and far more important. And rethinking how we view the relationship between science and religion could help give scientific thinking the wider public support it needs.

Ibn Sina (Avicenna).
Wikimedia Commons

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The history of scientific thought is closely linked to that of religious thought, and with much more continuity than discontinuity. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle effectively set the Western template for studying the natural world in the 4th century BC. Most of his hugely influential scientific works were lost to Europe after the Roman Empire collapsed, but were developed by Muslim Arab thinkers like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) from around 900AD to 1300AD. Early Islamic figures were responsible for very rapid progress in a number of scientific fields, notably maths, medicine and the study of light (optics).

When Aristotle was reintroduced to Europe in the 12th century, his scientific work had a great influence on medieval scholars, who were invariably thinkers within a church, synagogue or mosque. A key example is the 13th-century Oxford theologian and later Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste, who was also a pioneering early scientist. He presented a vision for how we might obtain new knowledge of the universe, the dawning of the first notions of experiment, and even a “big bang” theory of the cosmos and a concept of multiple universes.




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Our latest scientific research partner was a medieval bishop


Yet underneath Grosseteste’s work lies a much deeper and developing philosophy of nature. In a commentary on Aristotle’s Posteria Analytics, he describes a uniquely human propensity he calls (in Latin) “sollertia”. By this he means a sort of intense and perceptive ability to look beyond the surface of the material world into its inner structure.

This is remarkably similar to our approach to science today. Isaac Newton described his science as “seeing further than others”. For Grosseteste, our sollertia comes in turn from being created in the image of God. It is a theologically motivated task that contributes to the fulfilment of being human.

Francis Bacon.
Wikimedia Commons

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When 16th-century philosopher Francis Bacon argued for a new experimental approach to science, he drew explicitly on such theological motivations. As the historian of science Peter Harrison argues, the scientific pioneers who followed Bacon, such as Newton and chemist Robert Boyle, saw their task as working with God’s gifts of senses and minds to recover a lost knowledge of nature.

Taking this history lesson seriously helps us see just how ancient the root system of science is. Insisting that science is a purely modern advance does not help the important process of embedding scientific thinking into our wider culture. Forcing people to separate science from religion at one extreme leads to damaging denials of science if faith communities can’t integrate the two.

Biblical science

In fact, science also has roots in ancient Jewish history that are as influential as the ancient Greek precedents. Philosopher Susan Neiman recently argued that the Biblical Book of Job should be understood as a foundation pillar of modern philosophy alongside Plato. This is because Job deals head-on with the problem of an apparently chaotic and fitful world, alien to the human predicament and unmoved in the face of suffering. And this, Neiman claims, is the starting point for philosophy.

It might also be the starting point for science, for Job also contains at its pivotal point the most profound nature poem of all ancient writings. Its verse form of questions is also striking to scientists from all ages, who know that asking the right creative questions – rather than always having the correct answer – is what unlocks progress.

So God asks Job:

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea?…
Where is the way to the abode of light?…
From whose womb comes the ice?…
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
And can you apply them to the earth?

In all, the book contains as many as 160 questions from the fields we now know as meteorology, astronomy, geology and zoology. The content of this timeless text has clearly steered the story of science for centuries.

Faith communities urgently need to stop seeing science as alien, or a threat, but rather recognise their own part in its story. The influence people of faith have on society through their relationships can then be hugely supportive of science.

To give one current example, the Church of England has recently cosponsored a major national project, Scientists in Congregations. This encourages local churches to stimulate communities’ awareness of current scientific issues that affect society, such as the growth of artificial intelligence.

By embracing and supporting science, in turn, religious communities can contribute important perspectives on how we use it in our global future.

The ConversationTom McLeish is speaking at an event entitled The Science of Belief, organised with the Royal Society at the British Museum on January 26, 2018.

Tom McLeish, Professor of Physics and former Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, Durham University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Why do Christians wear ashes on Ash Wednesday?

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Worshippers at Ash Wednesday mass.
AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Michael Laver, Rochester Institute of Technology

This coming Wednesday many Christians will arrive at work with a black cross smudged on their foreheads; countless more will slip into a church or a chapel during their lunch break or after work to receive the sign that tells the arrival of Ash Wednesday, the traditional start of the Christian season of Lent.

As both a priest in the Episcopal Church as well as a historian of Christianity, I’ve come to appreciate many of the liturgies and practices that characterize the modern church and have their roots in ancient traditions. The practice of donning ashes is one of them.

Ashes in Bible stories

In the Bible we are told that when the prophet Jonah pronounced God’s wrath on the city of Nineveh for its “wickedness,” likely because of the worship of idols or “false” gods, the king, in an act of sincere penitence, put on sackcloth and sat in ashes.

God was moved by this genuine act of repentance and spared the city from destruction. This story was meant to demonstrate that God is merciful and heeds true remorse.

This spiritual dimension of ashes is emphasized all through the Bible. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus deplores the lack of concern for the poor and marginalized on the part of the establishment of the day, as he passes through some towns.

He called out the hypocrisy of religious leaders who taught righteousness on the one hand, but lived lives of luxury and wealth at the expense of the poor on the other. At one point Jesus condemned the religious leaders as “whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

When pronouncing these judgments, Jesus makes reference to sackcloth and ashes as a form of penitence.

How the practice evolved

As early as the ninth century the church started to use ashes as a public demonstration of repentance for sins.


Pope Urban II.
Artaud de Montor (1772–1849).

It was only in 1091, however, that their use was ritualized. Pope Urban II decreed the use of ashes to mark the beginning of a 40-day season of Lent, a time when Christians imitate Christ’s 40-day period of fasting. This period is said to have prepared Christ for his three-year ministry that would culminate in his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.

With the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the use of ashes generally fell out of favor in non-Catholic denominations. However, it returned in the 19th century when many Protestant churches entered into intentional dialogue with each other and with the Catholic Church, a phenomenon that is called the “ecumenical movement.”

Today most “mainline” denominations, including Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and others allow for the “imposition” (as called in Catholic and Episcopalian prayer books) of ashes during an Ash Wednesday service. In some churches, the ashes are obtained by burning the palms blessed in the previous year’s Palm Sunday service – a time for Christians to remember Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem days before he was crucified. The resultant ash, depending on local practice, might then be mixed with oil to make them adhere more easily to the forehead.

Modern-day practice

In recent years several churches have put a new spin on the traditional Ash Wednesday service by providing what has been called “ashes to go.” In this new take on an ancient practice, a pastor stands in a very public, often busy, place and offers the ashes to any passersby who wishes to receive them, whether or not the person is Christian.


The pastors at St. John’s church in California provide ‘Ashes to Go’ for those who want to participate in the start of the Christian observance of Lent but are unable to attend a full church service.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Stories abound of pastors providing “drive-through ashes” in which the penitent does not even have to get out of the car. A website called “ashes to go” provides not only a list of global sites at which one can receive ashes in this way, but also has an FAQ section containing advice for churches contemplating such a service.

For a supremely ironic twist on Ash Wednesday, one only has to observe that the Gospel reading appointed for the day is from Matthew, chapter 6. Here Jesus rails against religious hypocrisy by criticizing those whose religious piety is done mainly for show:

“Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The ConversationChristians bearing the sign of the cross on their forehead this Wednesday will be sharing a formal practice that dates back over a thousand years, and more than that – in a tradition that goes back much earlier.

Michael Laver, Department Chair, Associate professor, Rochester Institute of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Proclus – A good example of how all spiritual beliefs are not the same

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid’s Elements via Wikipedia

Proclus (410-85 CE) was an influential Greek Neoplatonist philosopher. Born in Lycia, he moved to Athens for the remainder of his life.

A lawyer by trade, Proclus came to realize that he preferred philosophy so made a study of the classics and beliefs of his time. Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, mathematics and the ancient mystery cults were all under his purview.

Modern writers often call him the last of the classical Greek philosophers.

Proclus’ synthesis of Platonic and Aristotelian systems culminates in his theory that an overall, divine action coordinates all cosmic elements as the soul returns back to the One from which it originally emanated. This One is unlike the monotheistic God of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths, mainly because it is not a being but rather some kind of creative principle.

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Polyphonic chant (and a little polyphonic trivia for the digital age)

gregorian chant

K Leb – Old book of Gregorian Chant; some place in Aragón via Flickr

Polyphonic chant is a type of Christian devotional singing developed in the 10th century where two or more melodies or parts are sung together in a composition.

As with anything new, not everyone approved of polyphony.

Some believed that melodic complexity was the work of the devil, who tried to seduce believers through the sin of pride. Pope John XX II was dead against polyphony and in 1324 CE warned his flock not to fall into the satanic lure of musical innovation.

However, such narrow-mindedness couldn’t stop the flow of musical evolution.

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You thought quantum mechanics was weird: check out entangled time

In the summer of 1935, the physicists Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger engaged in a rich, multifaceted and sometimes fretful correspondence about the implications of the new theory of quantum mechanics. The focus of their worry was what Schrödinger later dubbed entanglement: the inability to describe two quantum systems or particles independently, after they have interacted.

Until his death, Einstein remained convinced that entanglement showed how quantum mechanics was incomplete. Schrödinger thought that entanglement was the defining feature of the new physics, but this didn’t mean that he accepted it lightly. ‘I know of course how the hocus pocus works mathematically,’ he wrote to Einstein on 13 July 1935. ‘But I do not like such a theory.’ Schrödinger’s famous cat, suspended between life and death, first appeared in these letters, a byproduct of the struggle to articulate what bothered the pair.

The problem is that entanglement violates how the world ought to work. Information can’t travel faster than the speed of light, for one. But in a 1935 paper, Einstein and his co-authors showed how entanglement leads to what’s now called quantum nonlocality, the eerie link that appears to exist between entangled particles. If two quantum systems meet and then separate, even across a distance of thousands of lightyears, it becomes impossible to measure the features of one system (such as its position, momentum and polarity) without instantly steering the other into a corresponding state.

Image – Wikipedia

Up to today, most experiments have tested entanglement over spatial gaps. The assumption is that the ‘nonlocal’ part of quantum nonlocality refers to the entanglement of properties across space. But what if entanglement also occurs across time? Is there such a thing as temporal nonlocality?

The answer, as it turns out, is yes. Just when you thought quantum mechanics couldn’t get any weirder, a team of physicists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported in 2013 that they had successfully entangled photons that never coexisted. Previous experiments involving a technique called ‘entanglement swapping’ had already showed quantum correlations across time, by delaying the measurement of one of the coexisting entangled particles; but Eli Megidish and his collaborators were the first to show entanglement between photons whose lifespans did not overlap at all.

Here’s how they did it. First, they created an entangled pair of photons, ‘1-2’ (step I in the diagram below). Soon after, they measured the polarisation of photon 1 (a property describing the direction of light’s oscillation) – thus ‘killing’ it (step II). Photon 2 was sent on a wild goose chase while a new entangled pair, ‘3-4’, was created (step III). Photon 3 was then measured along with the itinerant photon 2 in such a way that the entanglement relation was ‘swapped’ from the old pairs (‘1-2’ and ‘3-4’) onto the new ‘2-3’ combo (step IV). Some time later (step V), the polarisation of the lone survivor, photon 4, is measured, and the results are compared with those of the long-dead photon 1 (back at step II).

Figure 1. Time line diagram: (I) Birth of photons 1 and 2, (II) detection of photon 1, (III) birth of photons 3 and 4, (IV) Bell projection of photons 2 and 3, (V) detection of photon 4.

The upshot? The data revealed the existence of quantum correlations between ‘temporally nonlocal’ photons 1 and 4. That is, entanglement can occur across two quantum systems that never coexisted.

What on Earth can this mean? Prima facie, it seems as troubling as saying that the polarity of starlight in the far-distant past – say, greater than twice Earth’s lifetime – nevertheless influenced the polarity of starlight falling through your amateur telescope this winter. Even more bizarrely: maybe it implies that the measurements carried out by your eye upon starlight falling through your telescope this winter somehow dictated the polarity of photons more than 9 billion years old.

Lest this scenario strike you as too outlandish, Megidish and his colleagues can’t resist speculating on possible and rather spooky interpretations of their results. Perhaps the measurement of photon 1’s polarisation at step II somehow steers the future polarisation of 4, or the measurement of photon 4’s polarisation at step V somehow rewrites the past polarisation state of photon 1. In both forward and backward directions, quantum correlations span the causal void between the death of one photon and the birth of the other.

General relativity time and space distortion – Wikipedia

Just a spoonful of relativity helps the spookiness go down, though. In developing his theory of special relativity, Einstein deposed the concept of simultaneity from its Newtonian pedestal. As a consequence, simultaneity went from being an absolute property to being a relative one. There is no single timekeeper for the Universe; precisely when something is occurring depends on your precise location relative to what you are observing, known as your frame of reference. So the key to avoiding strange causal behaviour (steering the future or rewriting the past) in instances of temporal separation is to accept that calling events ‘simultaneous’ carries little metaphysical weight. It is only a frame-specific property, a choice among many alternative but equally viable ones – a matter of convention, or record-keeping.

The lesson carries over directly to both spatial and temporal quantum nonlocality. Mysteries regarding entangled pairs of particles amount to disagreements about labelling, brought about by relativity. Einstein showed that no sequence of events can be metaphysically privileged – can be considered more real – than any other. Only by accepting this insight can one make headway on such quantum puzzles.

The various frames of reference in the Hebrew University experiment (the lab’s frame, photon 1’s frame, photon 4’s frame, and so on) have their own ‘historians’, so to speak. While these historians will disagree about how things went down, not one of them can claim a corner on truth. A different sequence of events unfolds within each one, according to that spatiotemporal point of view. Clearly, then, any attempt at assigning frame-specific properties generally, or tying general properties to one particular frame, will cause disputes among the historians. But here’s the thing: while there might be legitimate disagreement about which properties should be assigned to which particles and when, there shouldn’t be disagreement about the very existence of these properties, particles, and events.

Image – Wikipedia

These findings drive yet another wedge between our beloved classical intuitions and the empirical realities of quantum mechanics. As was true for Schrödinger and his contemporaries, scientific progress is going to involve investigating the limitations of certain metaphysical views. Schrödinger’s cat, half-alive and half-dead, was created to illustrate how the entanglement of systems leads to macroscopic phenomena that defy our usual understanding of the relations between objects and their properties: an organism such as a cat is either dead or alive. No middle ground there.

Most contemporary philosophical accounts of the relationship between objects and their properties embrace entanglement solely from the perspective of spatial nonlocality. But there’s still significant work to be done on incorporating temporal nonlocality – not only in object-property discussions, but also in debates over material composition (such as the relation between a lump of clay and the statue it forms), and part-whole relations (such as how a hand relates to a limb, or a limb to a person). For example, the ‘puzzle’ of how parts fit with an overall whole presumes clear-cut spatial boundaries among underlying components, yet spatial nonlocality cautions against this view. Temporal nonlocality further complicates this picture: how does one describe an entity whose constituent parts are not even coexistent?

Discerning the nature of entanglement might at times be an uncomfortable project. It’s not clear what substantive metaphysics might emerge from scrutiny of fascinating new research by the likes of Megidish and other physicists. In a letter to Einstein, Schrödinger notes wryly (and deploying an odd metaphor): ‘One has the feeling that it is precisely the most important statements of the new theory that can really be squeezed into these Spanish boots – but only with difficulty.’ We cannot afford to ignore spatial or temporal nonlocality in future metaphysics: whether or not the boots fit, we’ll have to wear ’em.Aeon counter – do not remove

Elise Crull

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.