Showing posts from March, 2011

The taboo against meaning

Many people, scientists included, believe the greatest taboo in science to be the taboo against "magic." After all, science is a method for deriving explanations for everything in terms of other things. Nothing happens "by magic," but is the outcome of a long, and sometimes nearly unfathomable, chain of causality.

However, there are many historical examples in science of what we would today call "magic." For instance, during the Renaissance scientists attempted to explain electrostatic attraction by postulating the existence of an invisible substance, called "effluvium," streching out across bodies. Strange as it may sound today, at the time effluvium was considered as legitimate an explanation for empirical observations as subatomic particles (equally invisible) are now. As the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment, scientists began trying to frame every phenomenon in terms of the action of small corpuscules interacting through direct cont…

The God Helmet

A research team in Canada has, for some time now, used a strange device to induce, on demand, religious-like experiences in volunteers. The device is a modified helmet with attached magnetic coils. The idea is that the coils produce fluctuating magnetic fields that affect the volunteers' brains in such a way as to induce quasi-mystical states, including the feeling of an ethereal presence.

Many TV documentaries, including a normally reliable and trustworthy British series, have now portrayed the so-called "God Helmet" experiments as evidence for the hypothesis that religious or mystical experiences are "nothing but" the product of mere brain physiology. Although such a reductionist hypothesis is clearly consistent with the experimental results, I take exception with the implicit suggestion that it is the only hypothesis the results support. In my view, such suggestion is, at best, the reflection of intellectual laziness, unconscious bias, or faulty logic.


Pandeism, Pantheism, and Panentheism

Reader Knuje asked me to comment on the following question:

I'd like your opinion as a scientist on a spiritual question -- given our current state of knowledge of the mechanics of our Universe, is it plausible for an entity to be "omniscient" and "omnipresent" and yet exist as detached from our physical Universe?
It appears to me that the question centers on the difference between what has traditionally been called "Pandeism" and "Pantheism" on the one hand, and "Panentheism" on the other hand.

In the philosophies of Pandeism and Pantheism, the deity and the universe are one and the same. There are two ways one can approach this. First, if one simply defines the deity to be synonym with nature itself, then one is simply playing a game of words; no new qualities are attributed to nature other than the known qualities of nature itself. Second, one may postulate that qualities normally attributed to the deity (consciousness, intellig…

Meaning in Absurdity

It has been many months since I last wrote in here. Such gap has not been planned and is not the result of mere neglect or lack of interest. Indeed, there have been several subjects I have been meaning to touch upon and share ideas on with you here. However, one of these ideas has taken on a life of its own: It has developed into a major research project that has demanded most of my free time. The hard fruits of that work have now turned into the manuscript for a third book, tentatively titled Meaning in Absurdity, which has just been accepted for publication.

Here is the tentative blurb of this new book, exclusively for you:

"This book is an experiment. Inspired by the bizarre and uncanny, it is an attempt to use logic to expose the illogical foundations of logic; an attempt to use science to peek beyond the limits of science; an attempt to use rationality to lift the veil off the irrational. Its ways are unconventional: weaving along its path one finds UFOs and fairies, quantum …