Can You Think?

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"Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week." - George Bernard Shaw 

big blue bait ball of fishCan you actually think?


Of course. That's what I do all day. My mind's never at rest. Thoughts swim around like a giant bait ball of fish, without a pause.


But is that thinking?


Enneagram teacher and writer Russ Hudson said he can count on one hand the number of people he knows who can actually think, which he defines as the ability to "follow a thread of reasoning and find out something different from what you thought before."


How many of us do that?


What we refer to as "thinking," Hudson says, is "racket, replaying old conversations, little fantasies, random memories, sexual weirdness, tired old opinions, telling somebody off… it's just inner chatter." To that list, I'd add reinforcing our biases. Building up our intellectual defences. Proving to ourselves how right we are.


And why shouldn't I?


I'm right, aren't I? I read. I have a sharp mind. I converse with intelligent people. I know what's going on.


Do I?


A Mind of Its Own, by Cordelia FineIn Cordelia Fine's book A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, she describes how we instinctively filter information so that we get the version of reality that suits us. Our inner lawyer sifts the evidence to support what we want to be true. We tell ourselves, and honestly believe, that our failures are due to mitigating circumstances, or we weren't really trying anyway. But our victories come from our hard work, skill and intelligence.


She cites studies showing we're more likely to believe scientific findings that support our views, and disbelieve ones that don't.


We have a preference for the letters that make up our own name.


Our perception is loaded with self-serving bias.


Most people probably are like that, but not me, I say with a chuckle.


Fine also cites a study that shows we believe we're less susceptible to duping ourselves with a self-serving bias.


What motivates this massive, constant effort to shore up the correctness of our position?




Obedience: our gift to GodFr. Richard Rohr lays this point bare, saying that "individuals in positions of power who wish to control others by means of fear will always find new code names for it: 'loyalty,' for example, or 'obedience.' Many of us as children had the 'virtue' of obedience pounded into our head. In reality the point was that we were supposed to knuckle under to our parents, teachers, superiors, pastors, or other people in charge."


Even for those of us who don't surrender our intellectual and emotional autonomy to the church, politicians or our parents anymore, there's still a force that looms over us, demanding our loyalty and obedience, without ever saying so. It embeds itself inside us. It moves our limbs and wags our tongue like we're marionettes.


The ego.


The ego's interested in maintaining the status quo. Changes in the foundation scare the shit out of it. They're not to be tolerated.


Anything can be a threat. And nothing's more dangerous than an idea that doesn't fit into the framework we've established and become comfortable with. So in conversation with someone with any kind of view different from our own, priority number one is Defend What I Know To Be True. As Rohr puts it:


"This is the very nature of the Western debate, which is someone says something, and you two silhouetted faces involved in a heated discussionimmediately come back 'Well I don't think that's always true…' It's all downhill from there. Because you will both at that moment get ego invested in your own opinion. And the broader picture, the deeper picture, can not be seen once the ego is invested. Once you've made one statement, and you've all been in these kind of arguments, it's a save face kind of thing, it's I don't want to look foolish, I don't want to back down, I've already defined my turf, I can't change opinions now. So I've got to prove my opinion is right, even though, as we've recently seen in our country, and in our politics, all the evidence says it's not right. And at that point people can have overwhelming evidence and they will still hold on to their position. You all could tell ten stories like that. That's how much the ego is invested."


How much good information have you missed because of this impulse? How many new points of view have you protected yourself from with the firm shield of arms folded across your chest and a barrage of justifications inside your head and coming out of your mouth?


quote "replace fear of the unknown with curiosity"What would a person who didn't do that look like?


Open. Curious.


Russ Hudson said "a question is way more interesting than an opinion." He recommends we take a cue from little kids, whose inner script says "I don't know, but I'm willing to be informed by Spirit, by reality, by real wisdom."


How different would the kind of discussion Rohr describes look if both parties approached it with this attitude?


Free of fear.


Think of the courage it takes to face uncertainty. To not be swayed by the ego's subtle and persuasive screams of terror. To allow for the possibility that our cherished positions might be incomplete, or wrong. To have the humility to be willing, as Hudson says, to find out "how we've been mistaken about something."


Critic Ken Tucker, referencing R & B singer Anthony Hamilton's song Life Has a Way (of Humbling You Down), said:


"As all first-rate soul men know, there are few things sexier than a man singing about humility in a strong, confident manner. Because it's the strong guys, the potent artists, who have life in perspective, and who know that humility is a powerful virtue."


Humility is the lion laying down as the sacrificial lamb, dying to its old conceptions, being reborn in the enlightenment of the new.


Humility necessitates having the courage to lose face in service of further growth and advancement.


Carl SaganCarl Sagan said: "In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know, that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion."


I'd add numerous other fields to that last statement.


And change is painful. And frightening. It's much easier to unconsciously swear loyalty to our set of ideas and exclude all else.


It's difficult and heroic to question one's own biases. To catch yourself in the act as you resist taking in something new, something outside your perception.


It's terrifying and thrilling to explore unknown territory.


Russ Hudson said "If we're not willing to find out we've been mistaken, we can't get beyond where we are."


Isn't unknown territory far more interesting than the familiar?


What would open up if you were to drop your habituated thinking patterns? If you were to take responsibility for the havoc that fear and conditioning wreak on yourself and everyone you interact with? What new possibilities would arise for personal development and meaningful achievement if you were to break free of the ego's feedback loop that abstracts you from reality itself?


Yeah, I might do that. Some day. But not today.


A standard feature of the hero's journey is the rejection of the call to adventure.


Stay home. It's safe and warm. You've got responsibilities. There are things in the great beyond that'll fill you with pain and doubt, that'll rip your guts out, that'll make you wish with every ounce of your being you'd never left home.


Whose voice is that, do you think?


foggy landscapeBut any hero moves past that initial rejection, and saddles up.


Your higher self beckons you into the fog. Into the dark territory on the maps. To the places, as Joseph Campbell said, "Where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outwards, we shall come to the centre of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."


Are you up for it?

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  • Comment Link David MacLeod Wednesday, 07 March 2012 19:22 posted by David MacLeod

    Nicely done, TJ, on an important topic.

    In one of his comments under the Occupy Integral article, Terry Patten wrote, "’s *incredibly hard* not to harden around the values our actions have embodied and embraced, as if they were *the* values, the whole point. It feels so good to leave behind the tension and discomfort of complexity, ambiguity, and paradox.

    But as soon as we do that, we tend to harden into another divisive, reductive vying perspective, and our discourse creates the collision of closed points-of-view, rather than opening into real intersubjective inquiry like Olen Gunnlaugson described and Beams & Struts has tried to invite and convene."

    I have found that there are times when I make a concerted effort to really *think* through an issue, making a very conscious decision to let go of my biases and treat all evidence fairly (at the same time recognizing that it is impossible to become totally free of biases). At a certain point, a decision needs to be made, if it is an issue that requires action.

    After I've made a decision, it then becomes extremely hard to stay open to new evidence. And the time that would be required to continue to be engaged in never ending research is also an important factor.

    And so it is important to remember to hold positions, opinions, and beliefs lightly; to realize there are many perspectives possible; to listen to others and engage with an open heart.

  • Comment Link David Thursday, 08 March 2012 00:54 posted by David

    Let me think about that.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 08 March 2012 21:51 posted by TJ Dawe

    David - something Gabor Mate (whose work I quote extensively on this site)(and in my one man shows) says in his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, is: "One of the greatest difficulties we human being seem to have is to relinquish long-held ideas. Many of us are addicted to being right, even if facts to not support us."

    I've been getting further into Richard Rohr, and he speaks of the second half of life involving an acceptance, even an embrace, of paradox, contradiction and ambiguity. It's the mature mind that can live in a world with these things, that doesn't need to constantly shore itself up with the certainty that I Am Right. In fact, he says that almost all of the evil acts he's seen have been perpetrated by people who *know*, without the slightest doubt, that they're right.

    Olen's article is very important to us here at Beams. We don't discourage people from disagreeing with us, but insist that any discussion be conducted respectfully. This keeps us open to perspectives other than our own, which might offer wisdom and insight that can enrich us, even though it might threaten our egos initially. This is our ideal, anyway. We may slip now and then, but we're human. The world we're striving to create is one in which we can actually listen and think, even in the face of the new, the strange, and that which might topple what we've become identified with.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Friday, 09 March 2012 00:05 posted by David MacLeod

    Thanks TJ. I noticed Gabor Mate's name in the Tags cloud, and intend to read all/most of those articles. I've read part of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts - a very important work.

    I only recently discovered Richard Rohr - also someone I want to check out more.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 09 March 2012 00:19 posted by TJ Dawe

    I've only recently gotten into Rohr as well. His lecture on Men and Grief hit me right between the eyes. His book on the Enneagram is one of the most insightful I've read.

    Gabor Mate's name probably won't disappear from the subject cloud any time soon - I've got an article that quotes from In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts to be published this coming Wednesday, on the subject of neuroscience and choice. And I just posted a link on the Beams Facebook page to a podcast of a lecture he did - here's that link:

  • Comment Link Brian McConnell Friday, 09 March 2012 18:29 posted by Brian McConnell

    In your mention of Father Richard Rohr, who I had the good fortune of meeting and chatting with this last year at the Wild Goose Festival; I think it relevant to not exclude reference to his contemplative orientation. Navigating and subsequently depicting the territory to which you so beautifully allude, after all, necessitates meditative practice. Lest we forget . . .

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Saturday, 10 March 2012 00:19 posted by TJ Dawe

    Brian - excellent point. I'm a newcomer to his work, and am enjoying exploring the various aspects of what he's put out there - the Enneagram, non-dual think, Christianity, men's work. I've yet to read about or listen to a lecture on his contemplative work. Very much looking forward to it. And you're right - meditative practice is the workout we need to gain a greater sense of presence and awareness.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Saturday, 10 March 2012 04:20 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks TJ,

    Great piece. There's an interesting story in John's gospel about a respected Pharisee of the established order, who comes at midnight to a young upstart peasant from Galilee, acknowledges him as a true prophet, and then proceeds to ask questions. Sadly, and tragically, Christianity has mostly turned Nicodemus into a hard-hearted, spiritually blind Jew. But to my mind he embodies the spirit of curiosity and inquiry. He's there to learn from the young guy. As I do from you beams' folks.

    I found myself getting somewhat suspicious, however, when you quoted Carl Sagan about how open scientists are to having their results falsified, and how the scientific method is so much superior to religion and politics. Maybe.

    But check this piece out:

    by Johan Lehrer in the New Yorker magazine. Jonathan Schooler is a memory researcher who "discovered" what is now called verbal overshadowing. Subjects who verbally described an image on a card that they were shown are less likely to subsequently remember it than those subjects who simply saw the image without commenting. Schooler became a bit of celebrity.

    The problem is that Schooler tried to replicate his experiments in subsequent years, and found, to his chagrin, overwhelming evidence that his results did not substantiate his original research.

    Now this might seem to support Sagan's claim, but Schooler is the exception, and the scientific community isn't happy. And his original theory is still being taught at high schools and universities—ignoring his own subsequent research. Scientific journals overwhelming report studies that support, rather than contradict, the researcher's hypotheses.

    Part of this can be chalked up to "significance chasing". Big pharma isn't eager to throw money at studies that undermine their latest claim for a drug. And scientists, who are on the payroll are also biased to find supportive evidence.

    Acupuncture: "These cultural differences have
    profoundly influenced the results of clinical trials. Between 1966 and 1995, there were forty-seven studies of acupuncture in China, Taiwan, and Japan, and every single trial concluded that acupuncture was an effective treatment. During the same period, there were ninety-four clinical trials of acupuncture in the United States, Sweden, and the U.K., and only fifty-six per cent of these studies found any therapeutic benefits. As Palmer notes, this wide
    discrepancy suggests that scientists find ways to confirm their preferred hypothesis, disregarding what they don’t want to see. Our beliefs are a form of blindness."

    Conclusion: "“We cannot escape the troubling conclusion that
    some—perhaps many—cherished generalities are at best exaggerated in their biological significance and at worst a collective illusion nurtured by strong a-priori beliefs often repeated.”

    I think that the ideal of scientific objectivity is laudable and a marked advance over hunches, for example. But scientists, (as you point out as well as Sagan) are subject to the same evolutionary hard-wiring to deceive ourselves.

    The other side of this, of course, is that most scientists have no idea of how religious traditions themselves evolve in response to new data, worldviews, etc. and the tradition itself is always in the process of transcending itself. This evolution is embedded in scripture itself, for those who care to pay attention.

  • Comment Link Paul P Saturday, 10 March 2012 19:07 posted by Paul P

    TJ – nice article. Will I be able to follow this comment through to something new or not… I like the challenge.

    Bruce – as per usual your rhetorical characterization of scientists and the scientific community triggers me. So how to take this and not get all argumentative and actually come up with something new? Not sure, but here goes…

    How do you know that the “scientific community is unhappy” with Schoolers new results? I suspect this a mischaracterization extraordinaire. The scientific community actually loves new results that disprove old theories. People’s careers are made on precisely that. It is only perhaps the poor ego of the individual that is hurt by attachment to a pet theory.
    And yes scientists are human as anyone else and subject to the same evolutionary hard-wiring to deceive themselves. So are Christians. Hence the book “The God Delusion”
    If we look at the data as to how religious traditions actually evolve in response to new data, worldviews, etc,… then what do we have? About 1500 years of repression of new ideas, the pinnacle of which could be the Inquisition? I mean it only took the catholic church 350 years to pardon Galileo for suggesting that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. So I think scientists may have some idea how slow the process of change in the church happens.
    And thanks for granting that “the ideal of scientific objectivity is laudable and a marked advance over hunches”. I wish I could think of such a generous statement about the church.

    So where do we go from here? I am still hearing myself be argumentative. I sill feel the same disconnect from the clergy and your views about science.

    Yes, as with any human endeavour, there are challenges to doing it well. Confirmation bias, selective reporting, and cultural biases all have an impact. And it is important to recognize them!

    But the real question is how can I reduce my suspicion of the church, and perhaps you of science?

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Sunday, 11 March 2012 06:58 posted by Bruce Sanguin


    Sorry to trigger you. I actually don't feel suspicious of science. What I do feel is that science has been idealized. The article I linked to supports the claim that scientists are not immune to the point T.J. was making.

    I'm a big fan of my friend, Michael Dowd's evidence-based approach to faith—looking at the evolutionary process itself as a sacred story.

    The church does consist of the history you describe. But during the modern period, starting in Germany it adopted a rational approach to scripture, with form criticism, redaction criticism, source criticism, etc. culminating in the Jesus' seminar, and the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

    I don't even feel a great need to defend the church, and I have little patience with the 80% of Christians worldwide who subscribe to a traditionalist worldview. The liberal and progressive church has, in fact, evolved through modernism, postmodernism, and I would say beyond.

    My frustration with books like the God Delusion is that Dawkins and others, such as Sam Harris, pretend that there is no expression of Christianity other than fundamentalism. It's just too easy a target. You talk about looking at the data. But these folks haven't read anything, apparently, by any theologian other than Billy Graham. Not exactly the open-minded approach this post is looking for. Dawkins doesn't seem the least bit curious about any theology or spiritual practice other than that which supports his rather fundamentalist beliefs.

    As for how you might reduce your suspicion of the church, read any post on this site by Chris Dierkes or Trevor Malkinson. They exemplify, to me, the humility and the open-minded curiosity that T.J. advocates.

    I appreciate your open-mindedness.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Monday, 12 March 2012 22:20 posted by TJ Dawe

    Bruce, Paul P - this is a spectacularly interesting occurrence, for the discussion of this piece to contain the opportunity for full on ego driven fists-up defending of previously invested in territory, and instead for the possibility to open up of respectful dialogue full of listening, asking questions and curiosity.

    Bruce - you're right in that scientists do frequently cling to theories they value personally. Einstein initially rejected the notion of an expanding universe, and later repented this as perhaps his greatest error. And he wasn't alone - the scientific community had great disdain for the theory before it become widely accepted.

    Paul - as much as I hate to be redundant, the writings and lectures of Fr. Richard Rohr have me recommending this guy every chance I get. I first encountered him listening to a recording of a lecture he did on the subject of Men and Grief - which Tim Walker quoted in his Beams article On Men's Pain and Transformation:

    both areas certainly come with the possibility for ego investment. The primary difference is one that Wilber describes in The Marriage of Sense and Soul - with science, the injunction (If you want to know this, do this) involves enacting physical processes, or at least calculating mathematical formulae that correspond to them. Easy for anyone to do, or at least easy for peer review. The same injunction applies to authentic religion (the only kind I give a tinker's damn for), but it involves study, contemplation and devotion which is pretty much guaranteed to take years to bear fruit, and might not happen at all. It's much easier to stick to memorization of dogma and faithfulness to it, which creates the rigid thinking that manifested as the Inquisition a few centuries ago, and as combative and often regressive stances on issues of morality and science today. It's a shame those are the religious folk who make all the noise - it makes it very easy to conclude that that represents religion and spirituality altogether. But as you point out, Bruce, the transformative message is in scripture already for those who care to look for it. Few do. Richard Rohr does. He backs up so much of what he says with quotes from the Bible. And that's giving me a new way to look at Christianity.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Tuesday, 13 March 2012 05:02 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    I agree TJ. Great opportunity. I confess that my challenge in this conversation (in other forums as well) is that any suggestion that science is epistemologically limited (wonderful and limited, true, but partial) meets with a surprisingly strong reaction. My hunch is that this would be easier to hear if I wasn't myself a card-carrying member of the church. If people associate Christianity with intelligent design, and Jerry Falwell, or the current Pope, I can understand the reaction.

    So, I will try to let go of that conversational history and be open to new directions/possibilities here.

    I, too, have great respect for Richard Rohr.

    (By the way I downloaded A Mind Of Its Own. Great read.)

  • Comment Link Eleanor Tuesday, 13 March 2012 18:26 posted by Eleanor

    I am so grateful for the opportunity to think about whether or not I think. Thanks for the inspiration, TJ. As usual.

  • Comment Link Drew Taylor Wednesday, 14 March 2012 19:01 posted by Drew Taylor

    As we swim in the pool of thought that is our consciousness, as I read and see flashes of insight, or reminders of past observations that have been overwhelmed by endless details, I remember past discussions...with scientists, limited not by intellectual curiosity but by office politics. While their minds were up for the task of curing cancer, their time was occupied with concerns about parking spots, work stations, lunch locations, who looked better, who made more money, and what opportunities existed for personal advancement.

    Similarly, my own revelations regarding religion came from first being open to and experiencing the emotional highs that came from communing with other religious people and finding clarity through a growing understanding of high-minded ideas regarding myself and others and discovering a pure feeling of love and connection. I had to break from those associations however, when the celebration of communion became obviously replaced by a celebration of money and influence.

    Moments of clarity arise after putting to rest anxiety and identifying what is part of the mechanism and what is not. For a time now I've upheld the notion that fundamentalism is the root of all evil, but I'm now aware of how a lack of commitment to a particular course of action results in a dispersion of energy and vagueness. So on the one hand, as any institution(like our thinking) tends to become rigidified from one generation to the next, as the context on which its tenets shifts, oftentimes unexamined as the past-based "truth" becomes repeated ad nauseum into oblivion, so too can a devotion to openness result in half-hearted explorations, too rapid abandonment of lines of thinking and action.

    A willingness to be open is not the same as a lack of commitment to what is the foundation that stands the test of time/peer review and generates repeatable tangible measurable results. The ideal of the scientific process is no different than the pursuit of self-knowledge, with the boundaries of that self being expanded as our ability to see further in all directions increases.

    Now as I acknowledge the ego that wishes to be known as "right" and "difference making", I return to my gratitude for this forum and the cross pollination it allows of ideas and perspectives.

    The comfort that comes from feeling a sense of belonging, as one who can manipulate words and their relative ideas with the best of them, and as an avid observer who also wants nothing more than to participate and contribute, I see how the pursuit of clarity, finding a place/space/moment in which to note all the affecting influences, and from there make decisions and to trust them and act on them through the subsequent maelstrom until the next moment of clarity is the true opportunity of this ongoing discussion.

  • Comment Link Steven Brody Friday, 16 March 2012 22:23 posted by Steven Brody

    This kinda sorta fits in this thread.

    "Can you think?" seems to be quite related to what Gregory Bateson called "learning", and developed his learning theory based Bertrand Russell's Theory of Logical Types. Learning levels are differentiated contextually, and almost all of what is called 'learning' is actually Zero Learning or at best Learning Level 1; the sum of Learning Level 2 constitutes one's sense of self, and Learning Level 3 only occurs when sense of self is deconstructed.

    Relatedly, with strong influence by Bateson, Neuro Linguistic Programming puts forth the idea that 'thinking' is comprised of the internal interplay between the 5 senses. Internal dialogue, internal visual imagery, internal evoked smell and taste, plus kinesthetic feelings. There is nothing else; all thinking is so comprised, though most is not in conscious awareness.

    The title of the 4th NLP book is quite descriptive of their approach: 'NLP: The Study of the Structure of Subjective Expeience'. It reflects an understanding that is essentially the structural pragmatics of epistemology.

    Among others, the therapy 'EMDR' is built on attending to these internal sensory components.

    Late night musings..........

    ps - The concept of ego is just that, a concept, and often isn't worth valuing.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 16 March 2012 22:24 posted by TJ Dawe

    "The ideal of the scientific process is no different than the pursuit of self-knowledge, with the boundaries of that self being expanded as our ability to see further in all directions increases." - Drew, thanks so much for this well stated insight. And thanks for getting what we're going for here at Beams. The internet has become the place where open-minded discussions full of genuine curiosity are the exception. But we can create little patches of digital space where we do our best to enact better values. And maybe that'll bring more people in. And maybe we'll all learn from each other. And move beyond where we are.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 16 March 2012 22:29 posted by TJ Dawe

    Steven - thanks for these late night musings. I'm not familiar with Bateson, but his work does sound like a good fleshing out of this concept.

    curious about your last statement: "The concept of ego is just that, a concept, and often isn't worth valuing." - how so?

  • Comment Link Steven Brody Friday, 16 March 2012 23:01 posted by Steven Brody

    Hi TJ
    Ego only exists in psychodynamic theories; it is a mapping that other psychological theories don't construct. For example, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and Narrative Therapy don't have 'ego'in their constructions. The Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, one of the early pioneers in alternative (to psychodynamic) psychotherapy spawned many Family Therapies, and for most, from a system perspective, such constructions as 'ego' are just not applicable. Ditto for Ericksonian-based psychotherapies.

    Another way to understand it is that 'ego' mapping is a thoroughly modern affair, and a postmodern focus doesn't usually have such causative factors.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 16 March 2012 23:10 posted by TJ Dawe

    Steven - thanks for your response. But I must admit, it's a little over my head. Any chance you could put it in simpler terms? I have no education in psychology.

    I was using the term as I've come to understand it through the work of Gabor Mate, Riso/Hudson and Fr. Richard Rohr.

    Br. Trevor was one of my Beams editors on this piece, and gave me a similar note. Maybe I'll prompt him to chime in as well.

  • Comment Link Paul P Monday, 19 March 2012 05:26 posted by Paul P


    Thanks for your compassion. As I expect you know, I am not interested in an ego battle otherwise I wouldn’t have waded in with mentioning my own trigger.

    And we do see some things differently.

    I am not sure that science (the scientific method) has been idealized as much as co-opted by the like of Big Pharma and others eager to use its power to further their material ends. Sure scientist can feel cultural pressure to do research that earns them money. Maybe some would even go so far as to knowingly falsify results for money – certainly the worst scientific “sin”. Scientists are human. But this is not so much a comment on science as human nature and/or politics.

    The second point I question is this idea that you and TJ have the pulse of the scientific community and somehow know a) when scientists are happy or not and b) when making decisions based on personal values. I’ll ask again, how do you know this? Do you actually know, or are you assuming? The example you give in your comment TJ about Einstien would seem to be another example of a scientist changing his mind in the face of evidence.

    The third thing I’d like to say is related to this idea that there is no difference between the scientific process and the pursuit of self-knowledge. Wilber does make a claim like this, but I think it glosses over the essence of the scientific process.

    The scientific process is not so much “if you want to know what the weather is like, look out the window.” It goes more or less something like this: create a hypothesis about something, develop a theory about it, use the theory to calculate some quantitative predictions, built an apparatus to test the predictions, do the experiment, compare the results with the theory and determine if your hypothesis is correct. Repeat it to be sure. And then get someone else to check independently too. I wonder how many people in spiritual circles who like to comment on science have actually had the experience of going through this process start to finish?

    When one gets agreement between theory and experiment in this process one actually has a deep experience of understanding. So it’s rather flippant (in my view) to say that “scientists frequently cling to theories they value personally” Many times, it comes from this deep understanding available inherently in the scientific method. And so you need to have a good reason (based on logic and data) for a scientist to change his/her mind about the world.

    Bruce your comment about the epistemological limitations of science is an interesting point and I do agree that science is limited in certain ways. I would have to hear more of your view about what is actually limited before I could comment.

    Thanks for sharing the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. I was aware of this, but not that this distinction is made in the Church. When I grew up going to the United Church in my small rural home town, the distinction was not made. It still isn’t. It’s kept simple – traditional, if you will. So when you say the church has evolved through it, you are not talking about my home town, I assume you are talking about the minority elsewhere (perhaps your congregation).

    I find it interesting that you say, “If people associate Christianity with intelligent design, and Jerry Falwell, or the current Pope, I can understand the reaction.”

    Perhaps what you are saying is that the “intelligent designers”, the Jerry Falwell’s and other current leaders in the traditional church have co-opted Christianity for their own purposes, much the same way Big Pharma, Big Oil, et al, have co-opted science.

    If that’s the case, then maybe we do see some things in a similar vein.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Monday, 19 March 2012 23:31 posted by TJ Dawe

    Paul P - you're right to point out that it's fallacious for me to pretend to have a sense of how often scientists cling to theories they have a personal investment in. Reading that comment, I'm surprised I said that. I have no idea how often that kind of thing is the case. If there was a study comparing that kind of action between scientists and people in pretty much any other field, I'd bet scientists would do it the least, given the fact that scientific results are physically verifiable. One can only deny physical evidence for so long, at least if you're at the Rational Stage or higher.

    And I don't know how long the gap was between Einstein rejecting the expanding universe and accepting it. I've actually been meaning to read a biography of him. But as you point out, this is indeed another case of a scientist changing his views after examining the evidence. I'm really curious to know what rationale he applied for his initial rejection of it.

    to say a bit about this point: "The ideal of the scientific process is no different than the pursuit of self-knowledge, with the boundaries of that self being expanded as our ability to see further in all directions increases." - Drew's phrasing of this emphasizes the ideal being the same. The process is different. The evidence is much easier to examine and confirm with science. But in both cases the goal is to illuminate dark corners, and to accept what we find, even if it contradicts what we'd previously believed.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 20 March 2012 00:22 posted by TJ Dawe

    Found this quote this morning, "Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are not sure that we are doubly sure." - Reinhold Niebuhr

  • Comment Link Paul P Tuesday, 01 May 2012 05:22 posted by Paul P

    In the spirit of being open to new evidence I'd like to offer the following Google Tech talk given by Rupert Sheldrake back in 2008 on what he calls the extended mind.

    It is quite fascinating (and quite long due to 45 minutes of questions from the audience) and he does speak a lot about cultural taboos within the scientific community. What I particularly liked about the presentation was his humble demeanor and clarity of thought. He gives an interesting testimony of challenges publishing his data on telepathy due to its very nature.

    He also gives an interesting description (at about 1:27:00) of what he calls ignorant bigoted skepticism:

    “People who are really skeptical have such a strong belief they know in advance the evidence must be wrong. If you believe it’s impossible and I come along and show results that it is possible then either I’m a fool – I’ve done the experiment so badly or incompetently that I’ve got false positive results and haven’t been smart enough to see it – or I’m a fraud; I’m trying to deceive you and the world.”

    Clearly, this is not science. And bigoted skepticism that is masquerading as science is deplorable, in my view.

    Sheldrake then goes on to offer a personal anecdote that Richad Dawkins is just such a bigoted skeptic. I found this fascinating and also, admittedly, easier to hear from Sheldrake (a scientist) than when I have heard other make claims of Dawkins ruthlessness. Interesting learning for me personally.

    Finally, Sheldrake has recently published a book in the UK entitled “The Science Delusion” and it will be released in the US later this year as “Science Set Free”. Apparently the book aims to discuss freeing the spirit of enquiry through dropping scientific dogmatism. I look forward to getting my hands on a copy.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 24 May 2012 20:48 posted by TJ Dawe

    Paul - dammit, this is excellent! Thanks for posting it. It deserves to be seen more widely than it will be, buried deep in this discussion, so I'll do a post about it in the blog section.

    I love the fact that Sheldrake works in conjunction with skeptics, welcoming their input in verifying his work. His allegiance is to the truth, and skepticism that isn't dogmatic is an invaluable ally in finding it, especially when investigating an unorthodox subject.

    very interesting to hear his account of the Amazing Randi's false claims when rejecting Sheldrake's research. how can such an avowed truth-seeker fudge the truth so blatantly?

    I, too, am anxious to read Sheldrake's book.

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