Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Quote of the Day: Peter Shafer

"It has long been accepted in most camps of New Testament scholarship (except for its fundamentalist and evangelical branches) that the New Testament is anything but a report of “pure” historical facts, of what has “really” happened—although, of course, this does not mean that it presents just fiction. Rather, it is a retelling of “what happened” in its own way or, more precisely, in quite different ways by its different authors. And it has been equally accepted by most scholars of rabbinic Judaism that the same is true for rabbinic literature, namely that the rabbis were not particularly interested in “what happened”—for such a historistic and positivistic approach they reserved the disparaging judgment maide-hawa hawa (“what happened happened”)—but tell a story of their own: also, not just fiction but their interpretation of “what happened” in their peculiar and highly idiosyncratic way." --Peter Shafer (Jesus in the Talmud, p.96)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Zen Parable


Zen is sort of strangely appealing to me. It has a spiritual component and a practical component. Yoga, for example, is part of Zen teachings. Yoga can either be spiritual or practical, depending on the person practicing it. But one of the things I like best about Zen itself are the parables, most of which come from China and Japan.

There is a nice little compilation of some of the best Zen parables in the book Zen Flesh Zen Zen Bones compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki.

A lot of the stories have a practical or moral lesson at the heart, and that's why I like them. I'm going to share with you one of my favorites from the book.

13.32

A Buddha
In Tokyo in the Meiji era there lived two prominent teachers of opposite characteristics. One, Unsho, an instructor in Shingon, kept Buddha's precepts scrupulously. He never drank intoxicants, nor did he eat after eleven o'clock in the morning. The other teacher, Tanzan, a professor of philosophy at the Imperial University, never observed the precepts. When he felt like eating he ate, and when he felt like sleeping in the daytime he slept. 

One day Unsho visited Tanzan, who was drinking wine at the time, not even a drop of which is supposed to touch the tongue of a Buddhist.  

"Hello, brother," Tanzan greeted him. "Won't you have a drink?"

"I never drink!" exclaimed Unsho solemnly. 

"One who does not drink is not even human," said Tanzan.

"Do you mean to call me inhuman just because I do not indulge in intoxicating liquids!" exclaimed Unsho in anger. "Then if I am not human, what am I?"

"A Buddha," answered Tanzan.

This story shows an interesting dichotomy between intellectual and spiritual forms of faith. 

Unsho's style of faith is one that is to be practiced, as a personal choice, a way of life. Tanzan's style is one in which he reflects upon his faith, he studies it, but he does not practice it. In other words, in Tanzan's mind, there is more to life than just faith. This is the first lesson.

Tanzan, a worldly man, who drinks wine whenever he wants and acts according to his own will, shows Unsho there is more to life than just mere religious practice by questioning--or rather, testing--Unsho's convictions in his beliefs. Unsho, having been put to Tanzan's little test, becomes angered and demands to know what he is about, and if he is not to be considered human then what? Tanzan, being sly, pays Unsho a rather large compliment by stating that Unsho is more than just a man, he is "A Buddha."

Tanzan, the Socrates of Zen parables, is famous for his style of lessons. He often teaches two or three things at once. In this loaded parable,  Tanzan is not only teaching there is more to life than religious observance, but he is also teaching that both choices are perfectly okay choices for a Buddhist to make. 

A Buddhist can be either spiritual or secular. This is the second lesson.

Tanzan, being a scholar, chooses the secular life. Unsho, being a religious monk, chooses the spiritual life. Both choices are viewed as perfectly okay.

This is a teaching I find lacking in Western religions. With Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Mormonism, and a host of other monotheisms, many of which have spawned off from these, the mentality is EITHER OR, but never both.

This sort of thinking creates conflict between the religious and the secular minded. Anything that is not religious--or more specifically, that brand of religion--is forced to the fringe of society as the OTHER. It's this other mentality that is dangerous, because it's a form of alienation. It sets up two sides as diametrically opposed--and it almost always guarantees that the minority side is the one to be ostracized  demonized, and/or oppressed. 

But within Buddhism, such conflict is surprisingly lacking (of course, there are militant forms of Buddhism in the world, but for different reasons). Here we find that dispute between the religious and the secular point of view is seen as needless, mainly because, well, it is.

Buddhism allows for both. 

To me, this has always given Buddhism a strong edge over the Western religions in terms of how it can benefit one's life. Buddhism actually seeks to open up your mind--it wants you to think. Christianity and Islam, and all the offshoots of these, on the other hand, want you to be obedient.  Within Western religious belief, thinking can only exist in a limited form, because the moment one's thoughts take them outside of what Orthodoxy demands one's beliefs conform to, then one engages in the ever so dangerous practice of heresy. Heresy is dangerous for only one reason--it challenges the religious status quo. But Buddhism wants you to challenge the religious status quo. 

This is the third lesson we find tucked inside Tanzan's little test. He shows that if you didn't challenge the status quo, if you didn't challenge orthodoxy, as he does, then you would never be able to recognize who is righteous, or in this case, who is a true Buddha. 

Only by having contrasted the two types of religious identities, which we might describe as the differences of opinion highlighting one another, can one gain a fuller understanding of their own personal journey. The corollary lesson being equally as important: you can only come into a true understanding of your own choices by learning to understand the choices of others. It's deep--but rings truer to me than anything I ever learned in my years as a Christian.

Unsho comes to see that Tanzan is the wiser Buddhist of the two, even though he is also the more worldly (heretical?) of the two. This realization justifies Tanzan's form of Buddhism, who Unsho initially questioned and looked down upon. Tanzan simply reminds his friend he is human, unlike Unsho, who is aspiring to be more than human. He is trying to be righteous.

So the wise Tanzan teaches us three important lessons.

1. There is more to life than one's (religious) faith.

2. Both the spiritual path and the secular path are equally valid choices. Neither one is wrong.

3. Your faith only has meaning if you learn to question it.

I suppose that this is why I have always found it easy to be an atheist living in Japan. I have never had any tension with any of the natives--most of whom are either Buddhist or Shinto. Simply put, there isn't an either/or/other mentality to worry about. 

It's an open mindedness that I have come to appreciate having lived for some time in Japan. Additionally, it's a lesson I think many Westerners would do well to reflect upon. 


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Quote of the Day: Michael Shermer


"What existed before our universe began? Or Why is there something rather than nothing?... Phrasing the questions in this way is not only unscientific, it is nonsensical, along the lines of asking What time was it before time began? Or What is north of the North Pole?" --Michael Shermer (The Believing Brain)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Godless Movies I Love

Luckily, if you're an atheist, Hollywood is replete with atheists, and so too atheistic films. It's the one arena where religion really is shunned.

So knowing that, you can appreciate how hard it was for me to think of the top ten atheistic films (and by top ten I mean my favorite ten).

So what are my criteria for atheistic films? Simple. They have to either star an atheist, be written by an atheist, or directed by one. If the film has religious themes, they cannot be about God saving humanity. In other words, proselytizing messages of redemption are shunned (unless it's secular redemption). Meanwhile, if the film treats the gods and supernatural elements as sheer mythology, and nothing more, then that is perfectly acceptable. If, however, the film has an atheistic or humanist message--then that is preferable.


1. Sunshine
This film is my number one atheistic must watch movie. It's basically about scientists trying to save the world by re-igniting Earth's sun, which is mysteriously going extinguished (British physicist Brian Cox, was the science advisory on the film, and he explains in the extra features what might cause a star to prematurely go out--thank goodness, because I was skeptical of such a thing based on the premise alone). Once the scientists get close to their objective, while making a pass of Mercury, the crew of the Icarus II picks up a distress signal from the failed mission of Icarus I. Deciding to investigate, things take a turn for the worse.

Suddenly the film turns into a survival horror in space in the same vein as Alien. Without spoiling anything, there are certain religious undertones, and the hints of religious insanity, which the scientists must overcome in order to simply do their jobs. That's what makes this film so interesting.

It also helps that it was written and directed by Danny Boyle, an outspoken atheist. Boyle hired his pal Alex Garland to write, who is an even more outspoken atheist. The film's lead character Robert Capa, played by the brilliant Cillian Murphy, is modeled off of real life partical physicist Brian Cox, an atheist. It also helps that Cillian Murphy is an atheist.

In an interview with Total Film, TF asks Murphy:

You said that your experiences on Sunshine, and particularly the time you spent with the scientists turned you from an agnostic to an atheist – what changed your perception?


Murphy's reply:

I did a lot of reading, I spoke to those guys a lot, and I was always an agnostic, which I think is a very safe place to be in terms of your faith or lack of, it’s one foot in each camp kind of, and the stories or the themes we were investigating, the books I was reading, and just thinking about it personally, it just seemed to me that we’re here for a very brief period of time and then we die and something else happens and the burden with proof lies with people who belief, not with people that don’t.


It just seems to me to be irrational that there’s an omnipotent, omnipresent being who was there at the beginning, and will be there forever, it’s not logical, it doesn't help me as a person and I can understand why faith can be very important for people, but for me at this point in my life, it’s not what I need.



2. Prometheus
Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi was destined to be epic. However, it is not without controversy. Many people claimed the plot was confusing, or it lacked one, and that's to be expected from unintelligent movie goers. In fact, the reason I think so many people were baffled by the plot, or rather story, was because it wasn't a character driven plot but a concept driven one.

This is a bold move for any film maker, but Ridley Scott's genius was able to pull it off.

The concept this film wraps itself around is simply this: What are the origins of life on Earth? Where do we come from? Was it god? Or perhaps, aliens? There is a great line, edited out of the film but found on the special features, in which the lead scientist Charlie Holloway, played by Logan Marshall-Green, is asked what his scientific purpose is. He simply replies, "To find the origins of life and smash all man-made religions proving them wrong."

That alone provides a nice atheistic image of what this film is really about--namely investigating the philosophical implications of a scientific theory as opposed to a metaphysical one.

Needless to say, this is the focus of the plot, and the search for this answers is what drives the mission, the characters, and the plot.  The crew of the Prometheus find more than what they were looking for, and that makes the rest of this movie pleasantly surprising.


3. Life Aquatic: With Steve Zissou
Initially I was put off by this film. I simply did not understand it. It was quirky. Weird. And not at all funny--at least that's how I initially felt. That feeling was so strong that it actually bothered me. It irked me that there was a movie that had a really great cast and story, but that I simply didn't understand. What was throwing me off, I wondered. So I watched it again. Then four more times.

Fourth time is a charm. I laughed so hard I cried. Something in my brain just clicked... and I was like... now I get it!

I still think it's one of the most brilliant movies ever made. Wes Anderson (an atheist) tells the story of a celebrity status marine biologist, played by Bill Murray (who may or may not be an atheist), who has become a washed up, dried up, has been. In a sudden shark attack, his best friend and colleague is gruesomely murdered. Seeking revenge on the shark that killed his friend, Steve Zissou gathers a team of scientists and college intern lackies to hunt down the shark and kill it in cold blood--in what amounts to revenge masquerading as a rare aquatic life documentary.

But Steve Z is thrown a curve ball when a mysterious man who claims to be his bastard son (played by Owen Wilson, who recently tried to kill himself--in an attempt to what can only be presumed to prove to himself that there is no god) shows up and agrees to help fund the mission. At the same time, a reporter joins the crew to catalog Steve's new documentary--with a secret agenda to reveal him as a fraud.

Other stuff happens, including the funniest shoot out with sea pirates I've ever seen. A helicopter crashes. Whatever it was that I saw on that fourth viewing, the film left me in tears. The grande finale of the crew, all huddled together in Steve's submersible, and the majestic discovery of a new species of shark--left me breathless. It was one of the most 'spiritual' experiences I have ever had--in a film which celebrated life--in all its colors.


4. I Heart Huckabees 
So I am of the firm opinion that film director David O. Russell is an insane douche-bag/prick/asshole with some serious mental issues... but he made a brilliant film about--well--everything and nothing all at the same time.

I can't even summarize the plot of this movie, except that it makes you stop and think. It's damn funny. And it has the best cast ever assembled for a film of this mind bending genre--whatever that genre may be. Let's just all it a cerebral dramady.


5. Constantine
It's about a guy who fights angels and demons, who has bought his one way ticket to hell. Oh, and it's got freakin' Peter Stormare as the Devil? Need I say more?


6. The Terminal
There are absolutely no religious themes at all in this film. This film celebrates human friendship, love, and has an awesome Star Trek reference. In this rare gem of a film by Steven Spielberg  Tom Hanks plays a man down on his luck. How down on his luck? He gets stuck in an airport for a full year, having lost his citizenship to his homeland, which was overthrown in a coupe, and has to wait while U.S. immigrations figure out what to do with him.

This film has a bittersweet love story, as well as amazing characters with their own unique stories to tell, and the man who would bring them all together.

It's my favorite Spielberg film by far, and probably his most underrated too.


7. Braveheart
If what William Wallace suffered in real life was even half as horrible as the film adaptation of his story, then this alone is proof there is no God--at least not a loving one (even if Mel Gibson is a fanatic Catholic).


8. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Before there was The Avengers, a romping good superhero film, there was Scott Pilgrim, a romping good superhero film. This film has nothing to do with anything relevant .. and probably never will... but that's what makes it so relevant. Also, if you like comic books, movies, superheroes, and video games, then this film spoofs them all--and is a riot.


9. Superman Returns
In my opinion, this is the best Superman film ever. It is also probably the best shot film (cinematographically speaking) of any film ever (although my brother is of the firm opinion that Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is somewhat better--although it's a tough call).

People talk about the return of Jesus all the time. But will there ever be a time when people stop having faith in Jesus' return? That's basically the premise of this film. What happens when people give up hope. Superman Returns, directed by Brian Singer, opens with a world without Superman. He is but a fleeting memory. People have moved on with their lives. Even his main squeeze, Lois Lane, has given up hope. Except, one clear evening, a comet falls from the heavens--and Superman returns!

It's how I imagine the Jesus Christ Second Coming being, you know, if Jesus was at all real. But being equally as fictitious as Superman, I totally like this film better--probably because it borrows as much from the Christian mythos as it does the Superman mythos--making a powerfully inspiring film about a modern mythological demigod called Kal El.

One of the reasons I suspect that  Jesus is not real is because the Gospel version of Jesus doesn't read like a man raised by humans. He reads like a radical spiritual leader written into a loose historical fiction. What stands out about Superman Returns, at least to me, is that Clark really does think of himself as the product of humanity--which is why he chooses to love and protect his adopted planet and all its inhabitants. There is a very human connection here--something the Christian Christ mythos abundantly lacks.


10. Northfork
What can I say about this movie? It is hands down the most spiritually moving film I've ever seen. Although the spiritually moving part is a celebration of human life--regardless of the angels which make an appearance in this film. (They aren't the angels of Christian tradition, that's for sure.) James Woods has a scene in this film so powerful, so shaking, that I can never watch it without sobbing my eyes out. The story is interesting. It's about the stubborn locals in a rural Montanan town (Montana is my home state) who refuse to evacuate the valley when a new damn is built--and the men sent in to try and negotiate their removal and relocation. Directed by the Polish brothers, there is something magical about this film, and it makes my list simply because it has such a human story--regardless of the idea of an afterlife permeating the background of the story.


Well, that's my list of top ten atheistic films which all atheists and nonbelievers should watch at least once. Granted, the films here are an eclectic mix of sci-fi, mainstream, as well as independent--but those who love science, philosophy, and the strong message of humanism found in all of these films will appreciate the films as much for the art as for the message they provide. Understandably, not everyone will agree with me that these are good films. But they are my favorites.

As a bonus: my favorite animated films are the Hayao Miyazaki animated features, which have nothing to do with Western religion whatsoever. I highly recommend them all, but if you are looking to try some titles I suggest: Howel's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Porco Roso, and Nausicca, just to name a few.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Small Town USA Has No Room for the Goddless



Growing up, there was a scientist living in my small community who people spread rumors about. Some said he was a genius who solved a mathematical riddle for 'Chaos Theory' (which at the time meant something sinister to a child's mind--rather than what it really meant: quantum mechanics). 

Others said he was a loon. Some crazy guy who solves the formula for a new rocket fuel that could power civilization and launch us to the stars and into a new era. While, still, others called him a "godless" atheist. I remember that pejorative term "atheist" was so horrible, so detrimental, that it meant this scientist, while going about his own business in the grocery store buying food, as I once saw, local shoppers would go out of their way to avoid him. 

They'd either turn the other way or shuffle to the far side of the aisle and attempt desperately to avoid eye-contact. Or, on some occasions  they would even mumble insensitive remarks. All this is the product of...

Gossip. Gossip. Gossip.


All they really knew what that he was different. 

We are social creatures and have evolved intricate social customs, and gossip was once a mechanism for weeding out those whose beliefs or actions went against the tribe.

Small rural communities often have a similar tribal mentality. This is what living in a small, close-knit, community of like-minded people, raised together, and who are--for the lack of a better word--uncultured--is like: they become cliquish. 

Being odd, or being different, is not easy in such communities. Just ask my brother, he'll be the first to tell you the EXTREME bullying he endured for his artistic ecentrisms and personal quirks which make him such a unique and wonderful individual.

To stand out, in other words, is to go against the grain, travel up stream, it means to embrace the role of a black sheep, and all the other cliches. Like most cliques, people who do not appreciate your autonomy or respect your difference of opinion will bully you into silence or use peer pressure to ostracize you, not including you in their backwards microcosm of one subculture within one pocket of larger society.

I know. I saw it happen daily growing up.

As you may have guessed, if you are a nonbeliever or Free Thinker living in a small town, which tends to be conservative in practice and so too their religious beliefs, discrimination against atheists is common practice. Those to subscribe to the teachings of "Churchianity" (a pejorative term in this case) rarely have room for the godless in their hearts. In fact, from my experience, it seems they barely have room for each other. 


Forget about being "different."

I grew up in a town of about three thousand people in the highlands of the United States. Growing up, I was a product of my upbringing. My parents raised me Christian. And, well, this was true of them as well. It was true of almost all of my friends. As with most Americans, we were a subculture of Christian culture. We were what psychologists call "Cultural Christians." We inherited our Christianity. Christian by culture and practice only (this is in contrast to intellectual Christians who believe based on the rational processes of looking at the evidence--and then agreeing that it supports their preconceived faith).

Gossip usually circulated around people who were new to town, or people who disturbed the equilibrium of society. If somebody rocked the boat, even just a little bit, people would talk about it. 

Soon enough things would be stretched out of proportion, distorted, and twisted into untruths by the gossip mongers. But the nature of gossip is such that these untruths are usually taken at face value, and thus the reputation of a person is ruined almost over night.

Now, imagine being an atheist in this type of close knit (and, sadly, close minded) society.

I often have people share with me that they are 'closet atheists' who are still in the closet due to the terrible stress and conflict which would be inflicted if they should come out, they sit in the pews--the silent atheist--stuck going through the motions--because to do otherwise could tear apart a family and rattle an entire society.

So they stay quiet--as if by necessity. Sometimes, the hard truth of the matter is, it's safer--easier--and perhaps even better to keep quiet. But it is also lonely. The solitary life of a Free Thinker, the black sheep, in a flood of white woolly brained regular sheep--can be a difficult path to take.

How does one cope?

The best advice I have is advice I learned from the brilliant female comedian Julia Sweeney.

When asked in a recent interview why it is that atheists seem (seem being the keyword here) so stigmatizing, she replied:


They’re saying unpopular and different things that aren't what we've all been inculcated to hear as part of our general culture… they see how much religion — but particularly the Christian religious right — has used our government and taxes and our common will for their own ends.

So what's Sweeney's advice on dealing with people who think you're being stigmatizing when all you simply do is hold a different opinion? What do you say to people who look at you with a sideways glance? Or what do you say to your own Christian mother, who would be terrified to learn you're a disbelieving atheist? Should you tell them? Or just go through the motions?

Sweeney says there is nothing wrong simply going through the motions and sitting down to pray with the family, or even just going to Church on Sundays. She says:


I would totally do it, because to me, I become Margaret Mead. I become an anthropologist and go, “Oh, the customs of these people! They hold hands and pray to their god!” Humans are social animals, and part of our cohesion is based in ritual.


That's good advice, I find. 

So maybe this is what the poet Robert Frost meant by the road less traveled by? Not simply daring to do things differently, but to be true to who you are in the process.

I can't tell anyone how they ought to go about living their own life. All I know is, it's nice not having to have the constant burden of pretending to be something I'm not. 


I feel totally free as an atheist. 

If people don't care enough to ask what it is I believe and sit down and have a good conversation about it, then those people aren't probably worth my time in the first place. 

That's my two cents anyway. As always, feel free to take the best and leave the rest.



--Advocatus Atheist

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October Updates

The Blue Monarch!

Not much to report for October. Made Halloween masks at school. Overall, I've been pretty busy with my fiction writing. Which explains the lack of updates here.

Also, all the religion news is rather redundant... and by redundant I mean... same old same old stupid. (Or people being stupid because their religious beliefs either make them stupid or let them get away with it. Same difference really.)

The good news is Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion is now available for FREE download. (It may or may not be legal, but I suggest you buy the book and support the author. I own three copies, so I consider this a digital backup.)

In other news, I found a wonderful new friend to flirt with. She knows who she is. ;)~ 

And that about sums up my month. How about you all?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Induction, Deduction, and Abduction


When I first began studying philosophy, one of the most confusing terms floating around (at least for me) was induction and deduction. So the question is, what's the big difference anyway?

Induction
The term induction is widely used for the style of reasoning that takes us from empirical premises to empirical conclusions supported by the premises, but not deductively entailed by them.

Ah! See, this is why philosophy is so hard to get down. Already we have a peculiar new term, "entail."

Entailment is the relationship between a set of premises and conclusion when the conclusion follows from the premises, or may validly be inferred from the premises. (For more on entailment see relevance logics).

Now, before we talk about deduction and the difference from induction, I have to state that there are actually different forms of induction, as it is a formal process of reasoning. For instance, there is eliminative induction, enumerative induction, mathematical induction, and so on.

Induction isn't a perfect process. It can, on occasion  turn out incorrect inferences. One example, called the problem of induction, comes in the form of Goodman's paradox. It comes in the realization that we prefer certain uniformities over others, and will assume a specific uniformity holds true even when it isn't the case. 

For example, suppose that all examined sapphires we have ever discovered are all blue. Uniformity would lead us to expect that future sapphires will be blue as well. But some sapphires are pink. Some are blue. In other words, because our assumption of uniformity is wrong (revealing a probabilistic problem), then our conclusion is, in all probability, not correct even though the premise that sapphires are blue is still true (for a related problem see Hempel's paradox).

Deduction
Likewise, the process of reasoning by which a conclusion is drawn from a set of premises is called a deduction. Deductions are usually confined to cases in which the conclusion is supposed to follow from the premises, i.e. the inference is logically valid. Deduction makes up the bedrock of Classical Logic

Now, you all are probably familiar with Sherlock Holmes and his famous claim to utilize the methods of deduction to solve his cases. Actually, Sherlock Holme's methods were an exercise in abduction.

Another funny philosophy word! Abduction, first coined by the famed American Philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, is a process of using evidence to reach a wider conclusion, as in inference to the best explanation. This is actually what modern forensics investigators do, based in part by the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

So with all these similar terms floating around, how does one keep them organized? Well, I found out the hard way (and still am) is that one simply has to become familiar with the terms, which means reading philosophy, and engaging in philosophical discussions.

Once you gain a general familiarity with the philosophical terminology, it becomes less confusing and things start to make a little more sense.

Summation
So, in summary: Induction is a form of reasoning which takes us from empirical premises to empirical conclusion with the realization that these connection need not be logically sound (they may be intuitive).

Deduction, then, is a type of reasoning which looks at sets of information, usually something written out using predicate calculus, and then derives (or deduces) a conclusion based on the logical process of testing to see if the logic between the premise and conclusion is sound.


Meanwhile, abduction is a process of using evidence to make conclusive predictions that, when all the improbable predictions are excluded, we are left with the inference to the best explanation. Science depends largely on abduction and abductive reasoning in how it tests evidence and uses information to make better (more precise) predictions. 




Thursday, October 11, 2012

False Memories and Spiritual Experience

This is a short post on one of the things that ultimately helped me to see that many of my spiritual memories from when I was religious were, in fact, false memories.

In Michael Shermer's book the Believing Brain, Shermer has an entire chapter on false memories and how it influences our perceptions of past events. My favorite comedian Louis C.K. has a great bit where he talks about his phobia about a particular gay man who always supposedly tried to hit on him, only to later recall, it was a false memory.

My college professor, Dr. Michael Sexson, was the first one to get me interested in the concept of lacunae (Greek for 'gap') in our memories, in a class devoted to developing the memorization skills, called "Memory theater." The techniques we learned were used for the purpose of helping us to find a short-hand, so to speak, when memorizing our Plato and Shakespeare.

Now, reading Pamela Meyer's book Liespotting, she begins with a description of truth bias and the research which has detailed the phenomenon  The reason she does this is important. We are unaware of it most of the time. Only after become aware of it, can we hope to avoid making the mistake, and thereby learn to detect untruths.

It always comes back to memory, and whether or not our memories, of either past events or experiences, are trustworthy. My talking with angels, hearing the voice of God, speaking with Jesus in visions, and my demonic attacks all can, in retrospect, be seen as false memories implanted in me by the reinforcing effect of truth biases related to interpersonal deception.

I think much of religious experience in general falls into this category of false belief/memory. 


It was only after I learned how to detect the 'gaps' in my own memories was I able to begin to grow skeptical of the experiences I thought I had had. As it turns out, I didn't have any of those experiences. Not really, anyway. I merely thought I did.

This is something I may write more on in the future, as I am always interested in memory and in how our minds work. 

Video and Quote of the Day: Pamela Meyer on Truth Bias


"Unless we're given a reason to believe otherwise, human beings--Americans in particular--are generally hardwired to assume that what we are told is true and what we see is real." --Pamela Meyer (Liespotting, p.7)

Here's a TED talk by Meyer worth checking out also.




Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist