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A Little End of Summer Arts and Culture

Last night I had two scary dreams. One was that some burly stooges posing as workers for a home security company came to my childhood home to physically abduct me. I awoke startled.

The second dream had me back in university. My dorm room had been changed from a distant, satellite dorm at the edge of town to another room more central within the university village. All the books and items in the room looked vaguely familiar but not quite right. Next thing I knew, some creepy people came in, began to set up a portable operating table, and told me I was scheduled for an operation. When I asked an attendant “What operation?” she replied “I don’t know.”

Sensing serious danger, I asked to make a call and woke up, thinking I would have had to be like that guy in The Fugitive to escape something horrible.

Truly scary dreams. I hope they just mean slow down and take it easy for a while, which is what I intend to do today. Everyone else gets summer holidays and, although I’m not going anywhere physically different, I think I’ll just take in some arts and culture for a while, and post my discoveries here.

The most recent discovery is tweeted at the top of the page. I like this painting. Notice how the more important guy has better, more ostentatious clothing and bigger, more expressive eyes. What really struck me, however, was the larger globe in the picture. Fascinating how mythological creatures are intertwined with the scientific mapping (zoom in to see). We’ve lost that mythic connection to science, although some writers like James Hillman suggest that we’re just fooling ourselves. The mythic is still present and even science is a kind of mythic pattern.

I guess that’s in line with what I’ve been arguing all along here at Earthpages.org and Earthpages.ca. But as I said, it’s my holiday, of sorts, and I don’t feel like going into it any further right now!

Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Dora...

Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Dora Stock during Mozart’s visit to Dresden, April 1789 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other discovery, made last night, is something I’m listening to right now: Venice Classical Radio. I almost feel like I’m living in some little flat in Venice while listening to this excellent station. The selections are accessible but relatively uncommon. I’ve only heard one Mozart staple, which I enjoyed anyhow (pretty hard not to like Mozart).

 


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Does science self-correct or perhaps go around in circles?

Here’s a study originally concluding that non-religious kids were more willing to share than kids from Christian and Muslim families. However, the international data was reassessed and a new conclusion was found. Religious (or non-religious) background had no significant effect on outcomes. Rather, it was the country in which the kids lived that was the critical variable.

Psychologist Tania Lombrozzo goes on to praise this event as illustrating how science, as a public enterprise, self-corrects.

This cautionary tale of flawed statistics and questioned claims actually illustrates something quite positive: a virtue of how science works. On the one hand, an initial conclusion was called into question — a move that could erode people’s confidence in scientific claims. On the other hand, the revision was prompted by the kinds of scientific practices that should give us confidence in science: sharing data, revisiting analyses and questioning conclusions in the service of getting things right. Scientific claims can change as we gain access to new data and figure out better ways to make sense of it; that’s a feature, not a bug.¹

I think a very good point is made here. However, her optimism overlooks the seeming fact that many ephemeral, even spurious, scientific claims (especially in pop psychology) have a great deal of influence on how laypeople look at psychological issues within themselves, their relationships and their families. People glimpse the headlines or hear a quick blurb by John Tesh and begin to devise some half-baked, misinformed strategy on how to “fix” problems, often on the basis of a careless, overreaching interpretation and reporting of scientific data.

So I tend to applaud not so much science, itself, but rather, scientists who are willing to admit the limitations of science at every step of the process.

In the study tweeted above, if the researchers messed up once, how can we be sure the revised interpretation is still not egregiously flawed? How many additional uncontrolled, unrecognized variables might continue to influence the observed outcome? As any sociologist, philosopher or theologian worth their salt will tell us, the possibilities here are potentially limitless.

¹ http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/08/15/490031512/does-religion-matter-in-determining-altruism?


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Tit for Tat – One silly scientific claim gets an amorphous religious response

Many scientists do not seem realize that they are influenced by a tremendous bias having to do with two related ideas: The principle of parsimony and  Occam’s razor. Basically, the bias prevalent among scientists today is: If something can be explained with less, this is better than using more.

Cartoon about a fortune teller contacting the ...

Cartoon about a fortune teller contacting the other side. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a way I can understand this. Consider the sham fortune teller who is dead wrong with his or her prediction so creates all sorts of ad hoc explanations to try to explain their goof. But in another way, I think this reductive bias can lead to problems, especially in the area of mental health.

I have discussed the topic of science elsewhere and really don’t feel like going into it all again. A lot of effort usually gets met with blank stares. So I’ll just link to my entry about science at earthpages.ca and add the following quote which doesn’t really solve the problem of making religious experience scientific, but does point out that the current scientific attitude is based more on fashion than fact.

The medieval formula ‘philosophy the handmaid of theology’ and the associated idea of theology as ‘the queen of the sciences’ are seldom taken seriously today…Yet neither philosophy nor science have ever refuted the claim during the past seven hundred years. It has been dismissed by fashion, not by reason. If God is, and is our ultimate end, then the science of God must indeed be the queen of the sciences.¹

¹ Source, and a few more paragraphs explaining what this quote is about: https://javipena.com/2015/04/29/theology-the-noblest-science-thomas-aquinas/


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Seekers’ reality check – We all need one

Looking back on my life I see a funny dynamic. Many times I thought I’d found “the answer,” either through a partner, a job, a scholarship, a religious affiliation. And usually when I have found the apparent “answer” I’ve become a bit full of myself and maybe overly enthusiastic about my new path. God and life, however, have this way of auto-correcting. Stuff happens… and what a great way to regain humility.

Deep thought

Deep thought (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I’m thinking it’s nice that I don’t take myself as seriously as I once did. Yes, if someone steps on my toes I will still let them know. I don’t believe God wants us to be doormats.

But at the same time, getting older means that I can appreciate all the twists and turns my life has taken, and just as importantly, how everyone else is just as “valid” as me. Are just as valid as me? Whatever. I don’t feel like checking out Grammar Girl right now.:)

The tweeted article spells out some of the reflections I’ve had over the past few years in this area. I think it does a good job.


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Crisis what Crisis?

Crisis? What Crisis?

Crisis? What Crisis? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of you might recognize the header for this post as coming from an album by the classic rock band, Supertramp.

The album cover captured, like the best of Supertramp, the irony and alienation of the 1970s. True, the 70s had a fun and optimistic side. But there was also this nagging sense that the world was messed up and there was no turning back.

Pollution, social problems and spiritual angst are nothing new. They’ve been with us in various forms throughout history.

For me, the best approach is to try to understand our somewhat tarnished world and to not judge. The only person I can really judge is myself. And I suspect that God’s standards and expectations differ from person to person.

All fine and dandy. But as Archbishop Sheen suggests, if we just go on blindly ignoring problems, how will the world ever get better?

And this is the crux of the matter. Where should the Christian dictum of do not judge end and the modern idea of social responsibility begin?

Again, each must find his or her own solution. Some of us pray. Some of us write. And some do a bit of both.


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So I guess I’m “uneducated” for believing in spiritual powers?

I usually don’t like the Huffington Post too much. The articles often seem sort of safe, mainstream and politically correct. But this article, well, I don’t know where to begin. Maybe it’s mostly about promoting a film, I’m not sure. If so, it’s a film I admittedly haven’t seen. So my comments are based solely on the article.

When I read articles like this I usually think skip it, it would take too long to critique. Too many reservations. And how much good will it do to write down my opinions, anyhow?

English: A Roman Catholic priest baptizes an i...

A Roman Catholic priest baptizes an infant as his parents look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So maybe I’ll just leave it at that. And if anyone wants to discuss this through the comments area, please feel free to do so. Every now and then I get tired of trying to dismantle a thick, brick wall.

If people want to believe that mental unwellness is predominantly some kind of medical ailment, let it be. I wonder, however, how many folks adhering to that belief will really get better. As one Catholic priest I discussed this with once said, “Satan likes to use psychiatry.”

Not that I want to get caught up in a polarized discussion between materialist psychology on the other hand, and uncritical Catholic orthodoxy, on the other hand. I think both perspectives could learn from each other. But unless I have totally misunderstood the intent of this Huff article, it seems to give emphasis to one side of the debate, which for me is inadequate.


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Forget loving the alien… AI raises new questions about consciousness, the soul and love

Back in the 80s David Bowie’s song, “Loving the Alien” anticipated an idea which would become more mainstream with the proliferation of specialty TV and radio channels: Would it be possible for a human being to fall in love with an alien?

Today’s hot question again reflects pop culture and recent tech. Aliens are old hat. But computers, well, that’s a whole new vista. We’re seeing a lot more stories about the possibility of artificial intelligence possessing actual consciousness. And sci-fi movies and novels about human beings and machines falling in love are on the rise.

Whether or not AI really possesses consciousness is something we may never know. One could say that AI is just organized energy. And so are we. Therefore both have consciousness created by our respective degrees of energy organization.

Others, usually religious people, insist we have souls but machines do not. And the soul, they say, is the true center of consciousness. So soulless machines simply mimic consciousness.

But how do these religious believers know that God would not bestow souls on machines?

Can religious traditionalists be 100% sure?

Artificial Intelligence (John Cale album)

Artificial Intelligence (John Cale album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we look into the human body, it really is an electro-chemical apparatus. Those nerve impulses scientists are always talking about, well, they are transmitted through electrical changes within the body.

So fear not. If you happen to be falling in love with your computer or talking car, you just might not be a social misfit compensating through imaginary love.  And even if we never know for sure, the future no doubt will see closer links among men, women, and machines.

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