Tag Archives: Philosophy & Religion

Chimps time travel too

Over the millenium, humans have mustered their meager intellects to desperately prove themselves unique and superior to all other animals. Most people, indeed, don’t even like to think of themselves as animals.

I wrote against that anthropocentric claim here:  “What makes us Unique?“.

But supporting the “humans-on-top” view, Crus Campbell, at his excellent blog “Genealogy of Religion“, claimed that:

“Making and keeping promises is a hallmark of human behavior
–Cris Campbell”

But I object: Promises are made with language. How do we know that animals don’t signal [a language] some sort of contracts [promises] with each other? He also claims that:

“[Chimpanzees can not] self-cue memories without external prompts.
–Cris Campbell “

Well, I just ran across this article in The Conversation that says:

More recently, studies of the chimpanzee “mind” suggest they can mentally “time travel”, like humans, by reliving past events and imagining or conceiving of what might happen in the future.

Unfortunately, just as Cris did not support his grandiose claims, this article did not source these “studies” either.

Oh well. But I remain suspicious of those that try so hard to make it obvious that humans have gone beyond being an animal.

Question to Readers:  What do you think?  Can you site studies?

PS: Chris’s blog will be improving in November — stay tuned.

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Can your Buddha change tires?

This post, thanx to commenter David, gives a Buddhist example of  the “Puffy Poet” fallacy. In his book “Crazy Wisdom” (pg 125), the famous Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, says:

This view that the enlightened being is a learned person, a great scholar, is a misunderstanding, another extreme. Enlightenment is not purely a matter of collecting information. If a buddha didn’t know how to change his snow tires, for example, a person with this view might begin to have doubts about him. After all, he is supposed to be omniscient one; how could he be a buddha if he doesn’t know how to do that?  The perfect buddha would be able to surprise you with his knowledge in every area. He would be a good cook, a good mechanic, a good scientist, a good poet, a good musician–he would be good at everything. That is a diluted and diffused  [“puffy”] idea of buddha, to say the least. He is not that kind of universal expert nor a superprofessor.

The point is that even Trungpa was fighting this common “puffy” misperception in his own tradition. I’m sure he saw it among many of the starry-eyed hippies that would come to his teachings expecting far more from him than he even imagined.

Trungpa mentions “omniscent” which is Tibetan is “kunkhyen” (kun = all, mKhyen = know).  According to David, it’s often taken as equivalent to “enlightened” and applied to important lamas (living and dead). And though most lamas don’t buy into the view Trungpa is criticizing,  ordinary tibetans do commonly attribute “global enlightenment” to lamas.

Question to Readers: Let me know other quotes from other traditions where this common puffy illusion is combated.

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Socrates and the Puffy Poets

Of human foibles, “puffying-up-our-heroes” is pretty comical.   By “puffing up”, I mean that we assume our heros know more and can do more than they actually can; We let celebrities lecture us on economics, scientists tell us about the meaning of life, and religious specialists tell us about the deep principles of nature.  Using Buddhist teachers as an example, I tried to illustrate that point here:

Poets offer another good example of this false valorization phenomena.  Some folks puff up poets with far more insight than they deserve. I have two posts which explore puffy poets:

Thanx to James (a reader), I just learned of a passage from Plato’s Apology (copied below), where Socrates describes the poets of his time as claiming wisdom much beyond their reach. I am always pleased to find ancient Western philosophers who have said better what I tried to say:

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Buddhist Contradictions


As my diagram above illustrates, Buddhism in America comes in three major flavors  or “schools”: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.  For many people, their nightstand “spiritual diet”  consists of a mix of Buddhist books from these three schools without an understanding that they often offer conflicting views of reality and very different approaches to life.

This confusion is exacerbated by most Buddhist authors who don’t devote any pages declaring to which school they belong nor telling their readers how their Buddhism differs from other Buddhisms.  After all, for them, there is only one Buddhism.  So in effect, these authors are actually proselytizing and pushing their favorite brand without granting the reader enough respect to inform her or him that there are other choices.  These authors practice unabashed prescriptivism.  So reading a mix of traditions, the unwary reader either ends up with a hodgepodge of conflicting views in their head or ignores the parts that don’t agree with their own personal spirituality.

David Chapman, a non-monastic Vajrayana Buddhist practicing in a Nyingma sect called “Aro”, has done a fantastic post called: “Wholeness, connection, and meditation: Competing visions” where he illustrates three conflicting Buddhist approaches to, what my blog calls, the “many selves” model. These three answers are: (1) Renunciation (2) Monism and (3) Tantra. Though each school of Buddhism contains a mix of these answers, generally speaking, they predominately cluster in different schools:

  1. Theravada –> the Renunciation answer
  2. Mahayana –> the Monism answer
  3. Vajrayana –> the Tantra answer

David is refreshing because he clarifies the contradictory Buddhist views. Please read at least the first half of David’s post if you are interested in understanding these conflicting answers.

The “Many Selves Model” is the psychological view I use to understand how much of the mind works — and is critical to understanding many of my posts. It is based on the same observations which David mentions in the beginning of his post: multiple personalities in different settings and multiple allegiances to conflicting systems. But David tells us that mainstream Western Buddhism (not his Buddhism, btw) has concluded that:

This fragmentation and isolation seems unhealthy, unnatural, unsustainable.

He then tells us the solutions offered by renunciate Theravadans, monists Mahayanists and tantric Vajrayanists. Of these three, I have always been attracted to the Tantric answer which is probably the minority stance in American Buddhism. (See, you are going to have to read David’s post).
But apparently, unlike many Western Buddhists, I have observed that the “many selves” is very natural and obviously sustainable since it helps me perform often important contrary functions in my daily life. Meditation simply made the observation of many-selves more obvious and I did not see them as a problem. Instead, slowly understanding these many-selves/no-self allowed me to take the phenomena less seriously, to stop being surprised by it and  to gain a little more control of the process so I could enjoy it more.

So as for the three “solutions” to the “problem” of many-selves:
I don’t incline toward (1) the renunciate model (Theravada). But over the years, as my blog confesses, I have been tempted many times toward (2) the monist model where the goal is merging with a passive God (monkey God) or the Divine or the matrix of the Universe or Buddha Mind or whatever single homogenizing principle you wish to name. Yet meditation and daily life have again and again reminded me that this is an illusion. So monism, though a temptation, is not how I view reality either — it is not the Buddhism I identify with.  The third option David discusses is (3) tantra which always has struck a resonance in me.

My particular Buddhish flavor has slowly evolved from my experiences with yoga, occasional periods of visiting Buddhist groups and my readings of many Buddhist books. There should be a name for animals like me — a pejorative one, I am sure.  But the reasons I have never joined a Buddhist group and am probably best called “BuddhisH” instead of “BuddhisT” are several:

  • I strongly disagree with the renunciate and the monist habits which predominated the Buddhist groups I have visited.
  • I do not have a commitment to the mantra that “Life is Suffering” that many Buddhist teachers and books tell us is key to commitment to the Buddhist path.
  • The tantric groups seemed too full of Tibetan tradition and lots of gods and superstitious magic.
  • Many Western Buddhists are enamored by Asia and their religiosity is tied up in finding their own special identity in another culture.
  • Western Buddhists can be so serious, so sappy sweet and so politically correct that I do not fit in well.
  • And the final irony:  I have never found a group that can tolerate my questions, doubts and speculations — they are all a bit too busy being religious, it seems.

But meditating continues to be useful for me, and the insights/skills gathered continues to be decisive in how I view and live my life. My present bedstand spirituality consists of poetry, history, some Tantric Buddhist stuff, science and math books. Fortunately, I have the blessing of a generally happy temperament and a balanced life of sorts.  I have never felt a pressing need to find a cure for life — I just look for greater ways to enjoy it.  What keeps me visiting Buddhist groups is that I am a very social creature who loves company.  I also enjoy the intellectual stimulus and the inspiration of practicing together when the above items do not distract.

But when asked by friends for books on Buddhism, I can not recommend any because of flavors of either Monism or Renunciation that fills many Buddhist books. And most of the Buddhist books I know point to groups with the problems I list above.  What to do?

Well, if you are interested, read David’s post.  My comment on David’s blog became too long so I transformed it into this post.  I hope my diagram, along with David’s writtings, have given you a tool to sort through some of the hodgepodge called “Buddhism”.

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Bursting Beliefs

We often argue with people imagining that their whole belief system is simply like a big hot air balloon (left image). We visualize their entire faith crashing if we make one small puncture in their naive thin vacuous balloon. We can almost hear the hissing of the leak as their hot air rushing out as they crash toward the ground.

But people’s beliefs aren’t built like that. Instead, our beliefs cluster together and support each other. The picture on the right is probably a better model of how to think about our belief systems. One or even several balloons could pop and we would still be floating.

I have tried to visually capture that idea in other posts too.  The picture to the left is visualizing “God” in a modular fashion. That series of posts shows how even if one of the component-Gods shrinks, the others compensate to keep the “God” intact (albeit altered a bit).

The picture on the right is from my post which illustrates compartmentalized beliefs.  This model shows our beliefs as connected but isolatable parts of a submarine.  The submarine (our belief system) is designed so that if it has a small attack or accident, it can isolate the damage and survive.

Question to Readers: Do these images help? What images do you use?

HT:  Inspired by Devin at Veil of Deceit — thanks.

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The Ecological Fallacy

I occasionally have discussions on blogs where basic statistics concerning “averages” is useful. Rather than referring to another site that explains these statistics, I thought I’d try to summarize them here.

Imagine a town, Sudsville, located on a beautiful lake.  The town grew around a thriving, prosperous family-owned industry that has made soap for 3 generations.  The soap facilities are in a low-polluting industrial park with a railroad running through both the town and the park.

The town has 5 major income brackets and oddly enough, they tend to group into different neighborhoods.  Each of the colored squares here lists the average income of the various neighborhoods.  The size of each rectangle is proportional the the number of people living in the neighborhood which by percentage of the town’s population are:

  • $12,000/yr:   15%
  • $40,000/yr:   30%
  • $80,000/yr:   25%
  • $210,000/yr:   20%
  • $1,000,000/yr:   10%

Given the above, the following question is a classic problem for both elementary statistic and policy courses:  If someone were to ask you for the average income in Sudsville, what number would you give?   If you are not familiar with this problem, please take a moment to jot down your answer before clicking “more”.

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Story vs Myth

Stories can be great vehicles to communicate useful perspectives on reality. They can also communicate destructive perspectives. One thing has become clear to me over the years: Our brains are very bad at separating fact from fiction. For example, if you read a lot of superficial, stereotypical romance novels, you may start looking for relationships in real life that don’t exist. Or if you read biographies of saints with dazzling healing powers, you may put hopes in miracles that will never occur.  Or if you watch too much futuristic science fiction, you may be disappointed by visits to your doctor where they tell you they have no clue what causes your problems.

Though our brains are often fooled by the fiction we consume, other times we can easily separate fantasy from fiction.  The brain seems better able to tell fiction from fantasy when the story is remarkably different from reality.  The flip side is that one clever way to change a reader’s/listener’s opinion on an issue is to tell a very ordinary story and only jazz-up a few important details — add only a few miracles or improbable details.  If you make the story too remarkable, the brain realizes it is fiction, but if you only sparkle-up a few pieces of the story, the brain may be very forgiving and remarkably indiscriminate.

What is the difference between a myth and a story?  As I have written in other posts, words have no real meaning short of the various ways we use them.  That said, for me, myth is a type of story.  And myths often have only small details changed with the explicit purpose of changing peoples’ views. Other people’s definitions of myth may include ‘archetypes’, ‘the divine’, ‘deep reality’ and more, but for me, ‘myth’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘a campfire story meant to trick you.’  But mind you, I love telling campfire stories to my kids, but they can tell by my tone of voice and the setting that “this is fiction for your entertainment!”   But maybe I am being more sly than I imagine.  Maybe by painting my stories as fanciful entertainment and telling them repeatedly, I am slipping in the propaganda through the back door of their minds.  Alas, manipulation is a core piece of human mental ecology.

 

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Evil

Evil = An intentional act or actor which you dislike enough to feel it needs to be eliminated, eradicated, extinguished or made totally impotent.

Evil taking form in Harry Potter

Calling something “evil” is more than just saying “I don’t like that at all!”.  The word “evil” also has a demonizing effect — it calls for public action.  Just as I wrote that the word “God” is often used to sanctifying that which we deeply value, so evil is used to demonize that which we abhor.  Both “sanctifying” and “demonizing” put the subject beyond debate, capitalize on a myriad of other emotions, and graft on meaning:  “Sanctifying” adds good ones, while “demonizing” add bad ones.

Like “God”, some folks abstract and concretize this notion of “evil” placing it in devils and demons.

The Vatican Newspaper (July 13, 2011) gave thumbs up to the recent Harry Potter film where Evil and Good are made clearly different and where evil is never attractive and always has consequences.

Question:  If you think “evil” can be described objectively please tell me how?

triangle_end_tiny
My related Posts:

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Math, Logic & Rhetoric

Last updated Oct 2013

This is an index of posts concerning Math.

Luck & Randomness

Conway’s Game of Life

Phi: The Divine Proportion

Math and the Religious Mind

Number Theory

Computer Programs

Rhetoric & Logic

Where Fallacies Live

The Reification Fallacy

Logical Fallacies & Rhetorical Tricks

Whack-a-Creationist

Study Logic and its Limitations

The Ecological Fallacy

Dawkins’ Relevance Fallacy

Demons & Classifying Fallacies

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Math & the Religious Mind: Intro

Introduction:

We all have buttons that, when pushed, can stop us from thinking clearly and can polarize dialogues making them useless, if not destructive.  On Triangulations I discuss highly polarizing topics: religion, philosophy, politics, lifestyles and more.  On most my posts I try to relate those topics to habits of our minds.  But on many posts, buttons get pushed, the points I intend to make are often lost and threads get side-tracked.  Of course, some of that is simply due to my bad writing or bad ideas. 🙂

Anyway, I thought I’d experiment with some posts on Mathematics with an emphasis on how our “Religious Mind” relates to Mathematics (“Math” in American English, “Maths” in British English — don’t want to push buttons right from the start!).

Hopefully there will not be too many readers who are emotionally attached to theories of math or to numerology.  So discussing Math may be a fun way to approach the same issues of Mind using a more neutral subject.

Related Posts:  Math & the Religious Mind: an index post

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