Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Science of Meaning.

I will admit that in the limited world of the study of consciousness there are no tools for studying emergent properties of the working of the brain. And by the way I am not arguing the mind is an immaterial thing. It is an overlay on the brain and depends on a working brain for its existence. Once something happens to the brain via toxic substances or other physiological trauma, the mind ceases to work properly. But until scholars of consciousness can provide a reasonable ontological link between brain action and self, other, and fiction, and reliably distinguish between them as a child of 7 or 8 does quite reliably and naturally, we are in the realm of metaphysics not science.

Perhaps self generated dualism is the best way to think about the relationship between the brain and the mind. It is true that the mind 'app' can be reduced to material actions of neuron activity, just as any app can be reduced to the the material changes in the state of silicon switches. But the meaning of the app is not found in the relationship of silicon switches, meaning is found in the usefulness of the app to the mind 'app' using it for whatever useful or useless thing the mind finds to do with the app.

The meaning of Facebook is not found in the material state of some server farm somewhere, it is found in the way real people can use it to stay connected to people who they may have no material connection with. I have never met in person several friends on Facebook, due to geographic limitations, but I would have no qualms about sharing an extended visit with any of them. Indeed, I have done so on a couple of occasions. (I will admit to be very selective in my friends list.)

Similarly the meaningful connection between you and me is not found in the state of the switches at the Silicon Valley and the Minneapolis ends of the fiber optic network, it is the way each of our minds works with the data represented by the states of those switches. Please note that the state of our brains is no more relevant than the state of those switches.

Scientists can not think about the issues of mind and meaning as scientists. They just don't have the necessary scientific tools. It remains firmly in the realm of philosophy probably more specifically phenomenology.

I can't prove, but suspect, that the brain processes the information about self, other in the real sense of a known other real person, and a fictional character like God made, after all, in the image of self in much the same way neurologically. All have faces, bodies, emotions, needs, likes, dislikes, etc, that I suspect are processed in the same brain spaces dedicated to tracking those things. But somehow a healthy rational mind can keep the differences sorted out correctly and is able to process information derived from each stored source in an appropriate manner. I am skeptical that the scientists will ever be able to distinguish the stored information about, for example God in a believer, from the stored information about self. Yet the mind does this quite reliably most of the time. Although some of the people posting here make one wonder about how reliable the mind is in this function.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thinking about Role Models

Adult morality is basically the ability to choose ones group and abide by the moral standards it sets up. Particularly the standards for role modeling. As we are seeing daily: If your group is sport you expect your sport heroes to be good role models and woe be to the used-to-be hero that falls short in role model behavior. They might redeem their hero status by their talent, but it will always have the asterisk hesh is a great athlete* *but hesh is an asshole.

In politics and religion the role model issues are even more important.

I learned the importance of role modeling early, as one of my favorite musicians was an asshole, and people in my group would judge his music by his behavior. The implicit message was that my society expected every member to be an exemplary role model, and achievements would be judged as much by the role modeling as by the achievement itself. This drastically changes the importance of moral behavior, at least in my society which is self selected to be intelligent, rational, well educated, and achievement oriented. And damn few of us get our moral behavior from God.

If you have interacted with another human favorably in the course of your life, that is made that person's life on this earth a little more comfortable or pleasant, and that person 'Pays it Forward' in Heinlein's words, the ripple is potentially infinite. I would rather bet on that infinity than some God rescuing some part of me to endure in some wonderful place somewhen if I have said the right prayers and chosen the right God.

Jesus while he was human said 'Love your neighbor [the Samaritan] as yourself.' His disciples and perhaps even the scribe that asked the question paid it forward and today one could argue that it makes Jesus immortal whether or not you believe the God myth.

Not all of us can have that big an impact, but if we can make the world just a little better for those around us, I think we have paid our dues for being alive and our importance and value will survive.

Thinking about Morality

While you are equal, the societies to which you belong are different. Abner will judge kodiacman by the standards of the educated atheist society of which he is a part. Kodiacman may very well say that God does not approve of the educated atheist society, or at least the atheist part, and in effect say 'Throw Abner to the wolves.' Abner will probably like Brer Rabbit say 'Don't throw me into that briar patch full of atheist chemists.' And you both will walk away feeling virtuous and filled with righteousness for making the correct moral judgment."

Moral authority is always a segment of the society of which the person is a part. Or depending on your definition of society, it may be the local society, the church, the community, or a self chosen community of peers. None of which have supreme authority, not even the church or God.

By calling another 'evil' a person is basically saying that the behavior is unacceptable for membership in the relevant society. In effect saying that if the behavior continues we, the society, will 'throw you to the wolves' and give no protection or benefits from belonging to the society. The outsider may find a society that tolerates the evil behavior, and may even encourage it, in which case there may be a clash of societies up to and including warfare if the evil is deemed onerous enough. Please note that the 'evil' society probably does not view itself as evil, and may in fact consider all other societies evil. It may even base this on a particular God belief, but even that is not absolute.

As an example many societies consider treating women as property and subjugating them to some relevant male to be evil. There are other societies that say this is requirement of God. I would challenge anyone to show either view is a supreme moral edict.

Substantive lying to anybody is wrong. It injures the other and is a disaster for self image. One can't hurt self or society much more grievously.

Adultery is a different issue. There are many workable forms of parenting. And to a greater extent marriage without the intent of children. Consensual open marriages. Open mistresses and concubines with the knowledge if not the blessing of the wife isn't even a biblical sin. About the only moral issue is the ability and willingness to provide proper support to the mother of any resulting children.

Adultery without spousal consent is certainly a moral issue, but with contraception and STD prevention it is probably one of the most common moral failings around. Religious or secular. And if you factor in serial monogamy as a moral failing, which I do especially with children involved, statistics are ugly for religious and secular alike, something like 30% for religious couples and 20% secular."

Pair bonded parents provide the most stable platform for child raising, particularly when both parents are committed to the child raising process. The dad provider, mom caregiver paradigm is a holdover from the patriarchal religious past, and provides an unbalanced role image for the children. Far better is two parents sharing the providing and the nurturing.

A much more useful way of looking at things is the source of the constraints on behavior that we choose to accept. This assumes that unconstrained choice is the natural state of human cognition, and it is the constraints on acting out the choices which are the important considerations.

This changes the whole picture. Free will is not a gift or an option it is the natural state of the human mind. We can and do think about all sorts of behaviors that might be expressed. However, as a part of being socialized as a child and to a lesser extent as an adult member of a society, and perhaps partly instinctual as a social animal, there are certain behaviors that may not be expressed. Once internalized as a constraint, we have no 'free will' to express the behavior. At the very least our self-image as a moral and ethical member of our society will prevent the expression of the thought as behavior. Of course fear of Hell or jail may reinforce the decision. but ultimately it is the internalization of the constraint which determines the control of the behavior. Free will has nothing at all to do with it.

The problem that is being ignored by all is that morals are neither personal nor universal. Morals are derived from the local society that one considers herm own, and reflect values that benefit that society from the individual working out and therefore from the society back to the individual. If the society is God based then morals will come from God as interpreted by that little tinhorn in the fancy dress in the overdecorated balcony that speaks for God. If the society is not God based, say a typical University community, the morals are no less stringent and are probably more strictly enforced as there is no get out of Hell jail free card, or plagiarism is OK if you don't get caught by the prof card.

Compared to a high level university the typical religion is a group of moral slackers even if they get their morals direct from God. The GOOHF card of the Cross can excuse a lot of sin.

True they abide by the same rules, but the rules are fundamental not God. In other words God has no choice but promote rules that are good for the society of believers, and by and large those rules would be good for any society. Do not lie, cheat, steal, kill, respect authority beginning with parents and going on from there, to God if religious, to other authorities worthy of respect if not."

The big differences of course are in the "control morality." That morality that is use to control the sheeple. Paul found the efficacy of sexual morality for paternalistic control, and Christianity has gone downhill from there. A rational sexual morality is necessarily based on the welfare of the family whatever form that takes. The pair bond seems nearly universal in nature and seems to be the most workable sexual morality in humans. That is morality that strengthens and preserves the pair bond seems best for all social groupings.

Sorry. The dark side, the yang, the masculine, are all socially imposed on the natural instinctual behaviors that must be controlled to fit properly into a specific society. Many societies reinforce natural behaviors in ways that another society might consider dysfunctional, but within the society they are controlled expressions of natural behavior. The difference between a benevolent pastoral leader and an exploiter of herm followers is not that one is responding to a genetic instinct to lead benevolently, and the other to an exploitation gene. The both are responding to a natural genetic drive to alpha status for those who can and follower stats for those who can't. The only difference is that both leaders have different control of their alpha instinctual behavior. Historically this control has been mediated by religious beliefs, a powerful social control force, both for good and for evil, at least by my society's standards, but as Heinlein noted, 'Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes...' and generally not in the eyes of his local society. I am quite sure that Torquemada and his fellow priests were filled with satisfaction for doing God's will indeed they gave themselves the title of 'Protector of the Faith' which has persisted to the present day. One wonders sometimes however, just what faith it is that the protector is protecting?

Good and evil are socially defined concepts. Generally what supports and protects the social unit is good, and that which disturbs it is evil. I find evil much more of a problem than good, as scientific studies of social animals find almost no evidence of willful disturbance of the group. Even among social predators, while the prey may find them evil, within the group they are extremely careful of each other, even the lower status members of the group. The low status members may get the tough and dangerous jobs in the hunt but if they are hurt they will be supported by the group.

As I have mentioned before it takes a religious leader to create the 'us vs. them' that permits evil in a social animal. Other humans learned from the religious leaders, so the evil is spread.

Thinking about Moral Development

A recent study of morality in infants found that for toddlers even something as trivial as T-shirt colors can be a moral issue. The within-group preferences are the basis of morality as in "Our T-shirt colors are good, yours are bad. This observation is an early indication that social groups are the basis of human morality and certainly part of our genetic moral imprinting.

This is why it is so important to pick your culture very carefully: A child will be necessarily be imprinted with the memes of his parents and their Social Support Group (SSG). It is called socialization and is critical if the child is to survive to puberty. This is in fact nature's plan if a cold cruel indifferent universe can have a plan. It probably would be better to say this is the implicit plan of the generations of social animals that preceded us. It in critical for a human to be a part of a tribe. A lone human is a dead human in the natural world. Nature, or more precisely the human genome has provided an escape hatch in the adolescent rebellion phase of any normally intelligent child. And if the child is exposed to other tribes as many modern children are in school, the rebellious child may find a better (or worse) tribe to associate with.

Obviously as a child choosing a culture is a pipe dream, but as an adult anticipating reproducing the SSG that you will provide for your child will determine whether the child is warped into some form of aberration or becomes a useful, productive contributor to the larger society.

Religions can be acceptable SSGs but again it is important to choose, if you can, a religion that is aware of and trying to be a part of the larger society. Many are not, and treat the larger society as hostile and dangerous, even to the point of home schooling or religious schooling to keep the child warped into the aberrant group. These UFSSGs may be more adaptive from an evolutionary perspective, they breed enough, but I certainly hope not.

The society in which I was brought up acceptance and participation in the society was determined not by a belief system, but by how one treated the others who were a part of it. There were many religions represented, mainly Christians, but some Jews and some of no discernible religion. The earliest moral lessons I remember were lessons on stealing and fair value exchange issues. Starting at about 5 or 6. It was not a matter of bad or good, but one of trust. One had to build a trustworthy reputation and it was easy to destroy it. Examples of untrustworthy people were all around and were not considered one of 'us' whoever 'us' was.

It is important that there never was a 'them.' The rest of the world was simply not 'Our kind of people.' The different strokes for different folks was the attitude that was basic to my upbringing. The next door neighbors were Catholic in everything they did. It was clear that they were not one of 'us.' They were good people, nice neighbors, the kids were acceptable playmates, but they didn't share the values that defined 'us.' The first time I heard the second great commandment I knew that Jesus was talking about my next door neighbor.

It would probably be easier not to work on righteousness and nail my shadow to the cross, but that doesn't work for me. Christ has nothing to do with my behavior or my relationships with other people. He is not responsible for any injury I might inflict on them and neither is Adam. The arrow of responsibility is very short and it points right at me. I think all this work makes me a better member of my chosen society both as an actor and as a role model. It is my effect on my society today, in this life that is important to me. No more, and no less.
The UU youth group was an important influence in my moral development. I was a regional officer and went to national conventions where supervision of our moral behavior was strictly peer driven. There were no rules, no belief systems, and yet we had to function as a coherent group in spite of radically different views on everything from God to sexuality. I learned to respect the rules and limits of others without internalizing them. I learned to communicate my rules and limits without projecting them on others. This was fairly easy with respect to God, in spite of my unusual for the time overt atheism, but the sexuality issues as you might expect in a group of horny teens with no rules except respect for your partner made for some interesting times. Further, deponent sayeth not.

My parents' relationship lasted more than half a century, the usual bumps and frictions, but in general I would agree that their relationship was generally good and a stable base for my development as a moral person.

My mother was an intelligent, independent, and strong woman, and the iconic ancestor was similar. Not domineering as many such women can be, but not submissive either. She knew she was equal to anybody else. Not better, but no worse. My older sisters who were important in my early life inherited these traits. One might say I had no experience with other types of women or at least didn't notice other types. My father was an equal partner in my parenting and in his marriage, but traditional gender role models were basically ignored.

I am sure siblings and playmates were caught out and instructed on stealing, but as usual my own burning ears were what made me learn. But relevant to the shadow topic, it was always behavior correction. "We" don't do that kind of thing. Never "That is bad," and absolutely never "You are bad." I don't remember "bad" as part of my parents' vocabulary.

As I remember it sharing was a part of playing with toys. Even my teddy bear which for a while was a constant companion was shared. I vaguely remember a kind of a round dance game where the teddy bear danced with everybody.

The "We" in all of it was what "We" considered to be an elite society. One in which each person was expected to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, responsible, mannerly, fun to be with, and to do their chores diligently and without direction or complaint. There were "Others" some of whom were part of a different elite, and some who were definitely less than elite.

As I grew up I moved in a variety of groups, each with different values and it was important to be aware of those values and at least know why I violated some of them. In general because they conflicted with other values that I considered more important. As an example many of the groups I participated in due to athletics had a rather crude sexual morality. I was brought up to consider sexuality was a relationship first issue. The love 'em and leave 'em of the athletic and cheer leading world was of no interest to me.

But in all cases I was intensely aware of the fact that there was only one person in the world that was responsible for any hurt feelings or worse that I caused, and that was me. No confession booth, no cross to nail things to, just me. I couldn't even blame my parents, they would just laugh at me and say you got yourself into this, lets see how you get yourself out. This does not mean they were not supportive or helpful, but it was my problem not theirs.

In high school and college I played with the big dogs in a bunch of packs, moving smoothly between them as necessary. The mores of each pack were different. The team sports had one, the individual sport group had another. The choral groups another. The science geeks a different one. The UU youth was wildly different. In college the philosophy and religion group yet another but basically a continuation of the UU youth. The social and party group, there was only one I could afford to play with, was again quite different.

This was in no way a multiple role issue. Just like religions all groups had things that contributed to my character development. Those that were useful I adopted, but I never felt the need to "buy into the group package." At my college, the student football cheering section was a mandatory Saturday afternoon social function. I was not particularly interested in spectator sports, and the team sucked. But drinking the frozen orange drink, and socializing with friends, many of which shared my distaste for the game and the team was worth my time and energy. The football enthusiasts who cheered each half way decent play, and booed the refs, were part of the group, but I did not share their enthusiasm, just their company.

In order to work well in all these groups I had to be aware of the mores and how I would respond to them. No subconscious responses allowed, they would bite me on the rear cheek every time. I like to think that I integrated the best of all those groups into a coherent self image. The lessons from all those groups have served me well as a productive adult responsible for my own life. I have totally changed the direction of my life three times, each time moving into a completely different work and life style. It was very useful to be able to join a group as an observer and know how to spot the important things for being a part of the group.

Golf was very instructive for me in the mores department. Very early I was a competent golfer thanks to an ex pro instructor in my father. It is ridiculously easy to cheat in golf. But choosing to do so even in a practice round will very quickly insure that you will never get a money round. There is no way to repair the damage to the reputation of a golfer that cheats. Further it is assumed that a golfer that cheats in golf will cheat whenever hesh thinks hesh can get away with it. Politicians always cheat in golf.

I have no delusions of perfection but I frequently thank those, mostly dead now, that brought me up without a shadow and taught me how not to internalize shadow making criticism. I thank them not for them, but for me. I can still put names to those who taught critical lessons in responsibility. If someone tells me I screwed up, I have two choices, I can say yes, I did, and do what I can to repair the damage, or I can 'consider the source' and say "No it is your problem, I don't need to even consider it, and I certainly don't need to make it my problem."

I actually strive to achieve perfection in my ethical behavior and my moral relationships. It is not really that hard as all moral and ethical behavior is considered, and misjudging another's reaction is technically their problem not mine, although perfection would be taking that into consideration.

Since I have neither a shadow nor a God to blame for any transgressions, and the arrow of responsibility always points back to me, I try not to be willfully wrong in any situation. I do not always succeed sometimes due to a social misunderstanding, sometimes a simple screw up. But in any case I am the damage repair crew. That does make thinking about what one is doing a lot more important.

Others may try to impose a shadow on me but I do not need to accept its existence simply because someone says it is there. Any more than I need to accept the fundie's assertion that I am a sinner because all people are sinners. If the fundie thinks hesh can act out herm uncontrolled basic instincts in a socially dysfunctional manner because everybody is a sinner, and hesh gets to nail herm acting out to the cross and its OK because the cross is available to all sinners, we have total control by the church. Except I am not a sinner, and I can call herm on herm dysfunctional actions with a clear conscience because I control my possibly dysfunctional actions openly and consciously. I don't always succeed, but it isn't because sin made me do it, or my shadow burst out, it was because I failed. No one else. Not mom, not the preacher, not God, not the Devil. It was J'Carlin and no one else. If it needs fixing I fix it."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Children and Jung's Shadow bag

Owning Your Own Shadow - Beliefnet

When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360-degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. We had a ball of energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn't like certain parts of the ball. They said things like: 'Can't you be still?' Or 'it isn't nice to try and kill your brother.
Robert Bly via Wendyness

But if our parents weren't obsessed with sin and badness and had said "Your activity is annoying me, would you take it elsewhere, or control it to please me?" instead of "ADD is sick, oops Can't you be still?" If they said "Your brother will hurt just like you do when hit, can you consider his feelings?" For the adults that is use your natural empathy to identify with your potentially hurt brother? Instead of "It is sin to try to kill your brother." Intervention may be necessary, but it is not necessary to dump a bunch of BS into the kid's bag during the intervention.

In the interventions it is not a necessary or even desirable to dump negative self-worth into the shadow bag. The child must learn to control antisocial behavior which may be driven by powerful instinctual drives, self protection, fear of strangers, and abandonment by significant others in one's society. The child must also learn to reinforce the equally powerful instinctive social drives, respect for mentors starting with the parents, empathy, respect for all in one's chosen society, and others. But this must not be a shadow function but intelligently reinforced for the benefit of the child. Parents must be as careful of the thou shalts as they are of the shalt nots, so that the child is not trapped into cliques or beguiled by a charismatic but inimical leader either in business or in religion. In this way the child consciously builds a cultural self that will fit in with the social milieu of his chosen society, initially that of herm parents, but ultimately that which will be selected as a result of adolescent choices and occupational preparation and selection.

The cultural self must be managed by an aware and active consciousness managing all relevant social interactions. Will hesh do it perfectly, never making a mistake, of course not. Mistakes are how we learn especially in social situations. For a properly raised child, whose parents and mentors made the child aware of the reasons for interventions to prevent harm to self and others, the unconscious and especially a hidden unconscious (shadow) will have no place in the behavior of the adult.

Thus we give children control over their actions and in effect to relegate the subconscious to the trivial. Body regulation, habits, manners, and peripheral awareness for interesting things to bring to the conscious attention of the mind. I threw manners in as a late addition, I don't think they can be called shadow as they are necessary cultural conditioning. Manners are, if anything, a subconscious benevolence to identify one as a properly socialized member of the society.

The issue is not uncontrolled actions, but how the control over actions is established. I put manners in as a late addition to subconscious control, but perhaps they can be used as a illustration of what I mean. Good manners are essential to fitting in to ones society. As an example, good manners has been defined as the noise you don't make while eating your soup. This needs to be unconscious, we can't worry about every spoonful of soup we eat. But manners can be in the shadow, or in the volitional unconscious, simply by the way we are taught them.

"Slurping your soup is crude" that is only a crude person slurps soup, puts eating soup in the shadow. An inadvertent slurp reinforces the idea that the person is crude and not socially acceptable, whether or not it is commented on.

An alternative is "Slurping your soup is annoying to mommy" and by extension to others. An inadvertent slurp now generates an apology at least mentally if not spoken, with no effect on self image. Eating soup is still managed by the unconscious and very strictly I would add to the point of nausea for violation, but the apology rather than shadow pain can make all the difference in solving a manners issue. See Too Big for a Fork for an amusing example. If it were a shadow issue I would have been between a rock and a hard place. I could have been a rude guest and refused the food, or I could have been a barbarian and chewed the meat off the fork."

Wouldn't it be nice to be 25 with an empty bag? It can be done. As noted above, proper socialization without input into the shadow bag by parents and early mentors is critical, as is training to consciously accept or reject social precepts. That way when people try to dump BS into your bag simply say "I don't need that. I can control that behavior, or do it where it won't annoy other people. Or I can choose to comply with this social directive. Normally the conscious choice would be to so comply, but the compliance would be voluntary and not shadow driven.” This is known as being socially responsible. Kids learn it naturally unless people dump BS into their bag.

If people weren't loaded up with BS from the time they were 2 the shrinks and the preachers wouldn't have anything to work with. One of the most important things I learned early in life was the difference between "You are bad" and "Your behavior needs better control." I also learned very early that "You are bad" must for my own wellness be interpreted as "Fix your behavior." Fortunately I was encouraged to do so by my atheist parents, well technically Unitarian, I don't even know how they viewed God, but God and sin were not a part of my life growing up. As a result I don't have a bag full of BS to deal with particularly the BS about what I am. Contrary to popular belief this is neither unusual nor unbelievable.

When that little tinhorn in the fancy dress in the overdecorated balcony tries to dump his BS into my bag, I simply tell him that my BS bag has no bottom, and herm BS means nothing to me. Hesh will usually then scream "God will send you to Hell sinner!" and I will smile nicely and say "Hesh may try if Hesh wishes, but I doubt Hesh would as I am not a sinner. My BS bag is empty."

I am not unconscious. It is not part of what I am. I was brought up to be responsible for all of my actions conscious or not, and therefore had to be aware of unconscious, read instinctive, reactions and control them. It was not hard, I never was indoctrinated that my instinctive reactions were bad, just that they needed to be controlled for moral, social living.

In the early years events frequently get stuffed into the unconscious shadow by parents and mentors whose shadow has been carefully nurtured by their parents and mentors' belief system or culture.

Perhaps, but if you break the religious leash on the dark side, you may find that it is relatively easily controlled if not completely eliminated. The first step is to realize that almost all people are good people, most importantly yourself. That way when the religious guru or child psychiatrist tries to help you control the dark side, you may properly ask what dark side? The guru will say the dark side we all have, and you can properly say speak for yourself. Depending on the religion the guru will say all are sinners, or all have the yin and the yang, and you have every right to use the tiresome atheist mantra: Prove it. The guru is making a positive assertion and the default is that it is false. Pointing to the occasional bad guy doesn't cut it. You may properly ask to show your dark side, hesh did say all after all.

A person starts with total control over herm soul. It has no sides or points.. It is just a working reflection of social instincts as you have learned to control them. Your parents and family will normally help you shape it into the benevolent and beneficent soul that is your birthright. Don't sell it to the devil guru who will inevitably shape it to herm needs, not yours."

The most pernicious result of ceding the soul to religions is that they then get to define it any way they want to, and you can bet your tithe that it won't be for the benefit of the parishioners. It will always have the dark side that God or the guru will have to help you manage. And managing it means making you worry about it all the time as if it were really a part of the natural soul. It isn't.

If humans were evolved with a dark side to the soul they would have joined the rest of the hominids in extinction. Mom and the other caregivers including of course Fulghum's Kindergarten teacher, will guide the development of the soul in socially integrative, benign, empathetic, loving ways. Unfortunately the social milieu historically has included religious indoctrination which includes hijacking the soul for the benefit of the shaman.

It is critical that when one shucks ones milk church, one pulls one's soul out and shucks the dark side that was indoctrinated right along with the need for the God of the milk church.

As an example from the hot topic on this thread, I was never indoctrinated that my sexual impulses were bad or 'dirty.' I was, however, strongly indoctrinated that if the Girl Scout was not similarly inclined or I was not prepared and ready to accept the consequences of my instinctual action, I had better cause her to cry and walk out the door, or cause myself to say "Oh, shit. Oh well, there will be another who will be similarly inclined."

All of which have happened to me. As well as similar situations where we were both willing and eager, but not ready for the expected consequences. In one case purely psychological consequences. As a normal heterosexual male, in normal heterosexual social activities, I have had all the usual opportunities, and temptations, but in general according to my standards I behaved morally rather than instinctively. I have no regrets about missed opportunities, I think I chose wisely to miss them. But it was not denying my dark side. It was controlling my life.

One of the reasons I have found God dysfunctional is some of the natural tendencies encouraged by God are not useful in my society. Fear of strangers or people different from me is a natural tendency that at one time was quite useful. It is no longer so. As Oscar Hammerstein wrote in South Pacific

You've got to be taught before it's too late.
Before you are six or seven or eight.
To hate all the people your relatives hate.

You won't do it naturally, you may naturally fear strangers, but this fear is not bad or dark or shadowy, you have to be taught that the fear is hate which is bad, and dark and a shadow. But someone had to teach you."

While many autonomous processes don't need to rise to the level of consciousness to function, they are not immune to conscious manipulation. Placebos as an example.

"However, one can be 100% conscious of behavior influencing activities of the mind/brain. The fact that you believe Jungian therapy can give you some control over the shadow is evidence that such control is possible. The real question is what belief system, and it takes a belief system to mask behavior influencing activities from the consciousness, causes the shadow? In a different post you noted that touching yourself 'there' is bad or something like that. Why? Touching yourself 'there' is natural. See any dog. What belief system other one that is trying to control your sexuality would suggest such an unnatural attitude?"

It is the control over sexuality and other natural human behaviors like following the leader, among others that gives religion its power for good and for abuse. The control over sexual expression was used as the dominant sin expression by Paul. See Romans 1.

If the natural sexual expressions as seen in our simian relatives were free to be expressed by humans, one would see a considerably different human evolutionary pattern. I suspect that the two female family structure would be dominant, with the women choosing mates from the males based dominance and power to provide a stable society and for their intelligence and ability to provide a suitable dowry for the anticipated child. The men would still play their political power games not for genetic continuity but for dominance over the social structures supporting the female dominated reproductive needs for the society. The harem would be a self chosen group adhering to the rich, intelligent and powerful. Low status men would probably touch themselves "there" a lot.

I do not deny either sin or shadow. Both are integral components of powerful and useful belief systems. But the proposition that either necessarily applies to me requires substantial and significant support to overcome my reasoned denial. You may scream until you are blue in the face that I am a sinner, but until you can provide independent proof that I am intrinsically a sinful person your screaming is so much noise in a thunderstorm. It doesn't help to show that I did something bad, you must show that I did something bad because of sinfulness. And by the way something you think is bad or sinful has no relevance to the discussion.

Genetic behaviors are shadow only when someone normally a shaman tells us they are bad, or evil, or sin and we must suppress them. If we see them as natural, powerful drivers of achievement, that must be controlled, not suppressed, we can use them efficiently to achieve desired ends.

If they control us, as they will if suppressed, then they normally will be expressed dysfunctionally as you note above. The terms you use above are shadow terms for natural genetic behaviors. Displaying feelings about others is the way we create social bonds with those we wish to include in our social group. But controlled expression is necessary for social survival, which in many cases means physical survival. Take lust as an example. It is a powerful mammalian drive to reproduce the species. It is absolutely necessary to be able to indicate to a member of the opposite sex that you find them sexually attractive. If you repress it as sin you end up with the young adult party where all get drunk to lose their repressions and many end up in bed, or on the couch or on the floor. If one is aware of the power of lust one can take appropriate control measures to make sure it serves one's needs, rather than the mammalian need to reproduce.

It is like a powerful engine in a car. No less of a safety maven than Ralph Nader said 'Power is safety.' But put that power in the hands of a kid whose competitive drive is a suppressed sin, and you have an accident looking for a spot marked X.

This is not to say that control of powerful instincts is easy, or that it is always successful but awareness is critical to control. Knowing the capabilities of the double-bitted ax is a key to using it safely and effectively."

"I do not argue that perhaps most people believe in the dark side of humanity. I suspect this is a result of the prevailing Pauline concept of universal sinfulness. When you are taught from a young age that you are a miserable sinner and require salvation it is easy to internalize the concept of sin or a dark side. The trick it to understand Paul's theology, reject it rationally, and look around at the people you know. How many of them could you even identify what their dark side consisted of?"

For me this is the most devastating legacy of Paul's sales pitch. And why I find Romans 1 to be the most crippling book in the whole bible. It is a litany of all the human impulses that must be controlled to be sure, but are not inherent in all or even most. And yet one has this peroration that tries to rope everybody into the sinner category so Paul can later sell his savior. And guess what? If you give the church the child till he is 10 you will have a child with an internalized sinful nature with a dark side that he must find salvation for. He can reject the church, and even God. But the dark side remains. If only people could internalize "I am a good kid. God doesn't make junk." If only Paul had.

I do not have a sinful nature nor a shadow. I have a very well developed sense of what natural tendencies I have to control to assume a beneficial role in my chosen society, but those natural tendencies are not dark, or bad, or evil, they are simply not useful in an intelligent cosmopolitan society.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thinking about Synchrony

I would like a scientific explanation of how a top level string quartet manages the rubato, retards, fermatas, and other musical effects to produce a performance that can make a listener cry, or in one case of a quatuor pour le fin du temps sob uncontrollably. Or how a listener can control the attacks of a professional Rock band. All of which I have personally observed.

Or explain

With a dramatic bow of pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii’s head, rich sounds of the piano, violins, cello and viola broke the concert hall silence as he and a string quartet played Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44.

The standing ovation lasted nearly five minutes, so long that the 20-year-old from Japan returned to the stage twice to bow, grinning from ear to ear.

The audience may have loved Friday’s performance, but not everyone may have known its significance. Tsujii—who was born blind—had to figure out how to cue the other musicians. That was especially important with the Schumann piece, because all instruments must start playing simultaneously in the first movement.

Yeah, sure. The quartet all mentally counted the 3472 microseconds from when his blind eyes crossed the horizontal and they all came in on the 3473rd. There was something else going on here. The leader, in this case Tsujii caused the syncing of the brain waves of the quintet so they could all attack at the same instant. A trained human ear can hear at least millisecond differences in the attack of stringed instruments. With a good ensemble it never does.

As noted previously this phenomenon of 'knowing when to attack' and following unpredictable tempo modifications is second nature to ensemble musicians. It is not unusual for ensemble musicians especially in rehearsal to be concentrating on the score, and yet still follow the subtle tempo changes that constitute the music.

I have experienced and seen the synchronization and its failures. I attended a Faure Requiem performance in which the famous conductor for some reason was not into the performance. The stick was right on the money. The chorus was all over the bar line. I had the privilege of performing with Robert Shaw, and there is no way to be out of sync. Somehow, one always knows exactly when to come in. The concentration he puts into a rehearsal and a performance suggests an athlete. A face towel is standard equipment and is changed at every opportunity. He is not an active conductor, so the effort is all mental. I performed the Missa Solemnis under his baton, and there is no way to do the Et Vitam fugue at the tempo he takes it by watching the stick. There is just too much going on. I will admit to the possibility of learning to count microseconds in the rehearsal, but I wouldn't bet on it. The most logical explanation is that Shaw mentally cues every entrance and the chorus and orchestra is synced in enjoying the ride.

A relevant data point can be found at SciAm report states that syncing with the metronome, at the initial attack, and in difficult rhythmic passages the measured brain waves of two unacquainted guitarists in 8 trials were synced. A popular report of follow on research by Max Plank Institute touches on many of the synchronies explored in this post. 

I will stipulate that the scientists who did the SciAm study see nothing in their results that requires an explanation which goes beyond normal brain events understood in biochemical or information processing terms. It would be quite beyond the experimental design to explain the mechanism of the synchrony. The synchrony was of course biochemical and in the information processing functions of the brains of the musicians. That is what they could measure. Like the drunk under the street light looking for lost car keys, science can only look where they have light to see. All the scientists could do was note that the synchrony existed. They could not publish the mechanism of the synchrony even if they speculated on it. At this point it is not science. That does not mean that the mechanism for the synchrony does not exist, it is just in the class of things beyond the measurable world of science.'

I think the secret of good ensemble synchronization is unconducted chamber work either choral or instrumental. And since instrumental chamber music is required of all pro level instrumentalists but not choral singers I suspect instrumental musicians are better at syncing up.

Synchrony of mental processes goes far beyond the music world. I have seen a pairs figure skater 'stumble' in a blind maneuver but be perfectly in sync with herm partner at the rejoin move which was also blind. I would submit that the skeptics have the burden of proof that the rejoin was based on anything but brain wave sync of unexplained communication channel. Not incidentally, they were out of sync with the music which was one of the reasons I noticed it.

I personally have 'researched' the reaction time bill drop bar bet. That is if you catch the bill when I drop it it is yours. Catcher's thumb and finger over the portrait. A false grab means the catcher owes the dropper the bill. Reaction time says the money is in the bank. I was demonstrating this bet with a 'fresh squeeze' who eventually became my wife. She caught the bill every time. Fingers right on the portrait usually. We tried this with a wall between us bill in a doorway and the only way I could beat her was randomizing my drop. If I so much as thought about dropping it I lost. This was witnessed by a fairly large group of peers, who were able to observe a randomized trial by a finger signal out of sight of all but the control observer.

What's to explain about mirror neurons, religious perceptions God or mental influence on others? At least in the sense that you have a better explanation for us?

How they work. I don't have any explanation of how they work. Just the observation that they do work. I have a speculation that the spinal chord is a brain wave detector, and particularly with respect to motor nerve stimulus can provide the observed synchrony, as in the movement of a school of fish in response to a predator. Whether it can provide higher function synchrony is much more speculative, but it explains some unexplainable observations, including mirror neuron response, and group perceptions of God.

I am always amused by the way scientists conveniently ignore things like reaction time and speed of pressure wave transmission in water in trying to explain the unexplainable synchrony. But currently ESP is a grant killer on par with Creation Science, so it will take a lot of 'it just works' scientific evidence to force investigation of the mechanisms.

I have no dog in the fight. I don't believe in skepticism. Science always catches up and disproves belief systems contrary to fact. It will probably take a remote fMRI to catch a group of musicians, or a group of believers syncing up brain waves to do what is necessary.

An interesting experiment was suggested recently, which is to put a chamber ensemble in individual Faraday cages and see if they can play together. Passing the theme seamlessly from one instrument to another. Tracking rubato and expression as a unit, in short make music.

I have personally experienced, or perhaps imagined, all of the synchronies mentioned including the presence of God in a Catholic service. I can only speculate on the mechanism(s). Perhaps in the Catholic service I had a temporal lobe brain fart. Everything is on the table. But it was a physical action, genuflection, that triggered the connection with the congregation or whatever it was. I wouldn't take psychic phenomena off the table. It would have to be right up there with the brain fart. I don't have a clue as to how it worked. And as I had no previous experience of God, the feeling was of a presence like another person as described by unbelievers in the God Helmet experiment. But it definitely was not a person in the church, not even the priest. The closest analogy I can muster is the feeling I had in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

I think the analogy is apt. I have seen many a noisy group of school children fall dead silent as they cross the threshold of the memorial. I don't think it is anything supernatural, just a feeling of awe and reverence generated by those in the memorial. Is it psychic? A brain fart? Mirror neurons compelling awe and reverence? I don't think science dares to have a clue as to the mechanism. At this point it can just add a data point to the unexplained barrel."

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Life Worth Dying For: Forrest Church

In 1978 a group of us at All Souls Unitarian Church had some decisions to make. Our minister had retired. He had taken down the cross dominating the chancel, "For the repainting of the church" and in effect said "Goodbye. Have fun.

A candidate for a PhD at the Harvard Divinity School, Frank Forrester Church IV was suggested to the Ministerial Search Committee. He had a few deficiencies on his CV:
He had never preached a sermon. He had no interest in the ministry. He was the son of a famous Politician. He was young, and had a young family to support on the Upper East side in NYC. He had never led a divided church. His interests were in political and religious history. It seemed that his interest in a ministerial position was a stepping stone to national politics. Not necessarily a disqualifying or even a non-traditional expectation for All Souls ministers. We collectively took a deep breath and said why not?

As many such decisions it turned out to be an excellent choice for us. Forrest grew in the ministry and we grew both in numbers and in spirituality right along with him. He habitually stood on the front steps of the church in his “fuchsia dress” as he called his vestments and welcomed members and invited passers by on uptown Lexington Avenue to “Check it out” in the street vernacular of the time. It always got a smile if not a thoughtful look.

Early on he introduced us to the enduring theme of his ministry: Religion is the human response to being alive and having to die. He was an early adopter of the theme that birth and death were the bookends that gave meaning to our lives, and that we all should strive to live a life worth dying for. He was a Universalist theist and any afterlife did not depend on what we believed but how we lived. Afterlife was therefore an unimportant part of his message.

While he was clearly a theist. His God beliefs were always presented as his way of thinking that was just one of many. He knew quite well of my atheism but for him it was just another way to life a life worth dying for. In one of his early Cathedral of the World sermons, I somehow got the impression that some of the millions of windows through which the religious light shined were for atheists. It was clear that it was the light of God shining through those myriad windows but for Forrest it was no problem that it lit the way for atheists as well as the many varieties of theists that saw their God through their window. I think Forrest’s mission was turn All Souls into that Cathedral, and had he been of a different exploitive character he might have built it. I can see it now on Columbus Circle, “The Forrest Church Cathedral of the World” in gilt and glass to cause even Donald Trump to wear a green wig in envy. Not! I am pleased that Forrest was content with our brick and plaster Cathedral. It took a couple of services to fit us all in, but I think that was enough for Forrest, he seemed quite content when I had to leave in 1989.

I have no real personal knowledge of his later ministry so I cannot comment, although I was pleased to feel that Forrest remained a personal friend that I could make time to visit on my infrequent trips back to NYC. Someone else will have to pick up from here.