Monday, 26 October 2009

Karen Armstrong TED Prize: the Charter for Compassion

Link to the original post including video: Karen Armstrong TED Prize: the Charter for Compassion

Karen Armstrong talks about the possibility of implementing the "Golden Rule" throughout the world and throughout all religions in the world...

Original 2008 Talk:

The "Charter for Compassion" that Karen Armstrong refers to in her TED Prize Wish is here: Charter For Compassion Web site

In 2009 Karen Armstrong followed up her original 2008 talk with another appearance at TED where she gave a similar talk:

The Charter for Compassion is being unveiled on 12th November 2009: See: The Charter for Compassion is the result of Karen Armstrong’s 2008 TED Prize wish and made possible by the generous support of the Fetzer Institute. It will be unveiled to the world on November 12, 2009.

Here are a couple of useful links regarding "the golden rule" otherwise known as the "ethic of reciprocity".

Versions of the "the golden rule" in 21 religions on

"the golden rule" "ethic of reciprocity" on Wikipedia

Sunday, 25 October 2009

'A Universe From Nothing' by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009

This is must watch.

If you are viewing this anywhere other than my blog, you may not be able to see the video... Here is the link to the original post: 'A Universe From Nothing' by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009

Krauss is evidently a brilliant physicist, thinker and entertainer.

However I am not entirely convinced by this line of thought that says because the net sum of energy in the universe is zero, and because quantum physics allows or even requires the occurrence of improbable boundary events that that is enough to provide a truly satisfying answer the question "why is there anything rather than nothing?" All the same it does seem to be a fascinating set of ideas coupled with experimental results.

Apparently it has now been shown conclusively and beyond doubt that spacetime is flat, that the universe's expansion is accelerating, that in about 5 billion years time other galaxies (stars) will be disappearing from the sky of our galaxy because the speed of expansion will exceed the speed of light (which is theoretically possible under general relativity - although not under special relativity).

I'm not saying that the answer to the "why is there anything rather than nothing?" question is a creator god either. But I'm more inclined to think that this is an impenetrable mystery - the mystery of origin. And that being is designed in such a way that this origin is deliberately or at least necessarily incomprehensible, outside of its own vision, and mysterious. I am not meaning to suggest we should give up the quest as hopeless - quite the opposite.

But personally I find peace in my own heart from the knowledge that when you are looking from the inside of something, you can only at most imagine what the thing you are inside looks like from the outside. This is really the heart of the mystery, not the cause-and-effect of what came before the quantum-fluctuations that initiated our particular universe.

Anyway, if you have an insight into how any of this fits together, I would be grateful to hear how that goes.


Monday, 12 October 2009

We become enlightened by giving up beliefs

Adopting and upholding a religious "position" (what sometimes gets called "my beliefs") is the opposite of following a spiritual path. Religion, we might say, is the opposite of spirituality. Religion says: "I know the answer". Spirituality says: "I know the question".

Following a spiritual path is a consequence of laying ourselves open to the mystery at the heart of being. We don't know. There is a mystery at the heart of being. The design of being is such that its origin is deliberately concealed from itself. It is the "impossible question". The question we must ask and then lay ourselves open to the wonder of life, the universe and everything that lies in front of our very eyes. We must listen to the silence. To what the silence is telling us. The silence is answering the question. If I already know what the answer is, then I am disabled from being able to listen to the universe speaking. Before we can converse with god, we must give up thinking that we already know who she is already.

Being fixated on a particular answer to this question cuts off and obscures everything that lies outside of the horizon of that answer.

The spiritual path, the spiritual journey, is a relationship with an horizon, that brings the horizon into ourselves. We make peace with the horizon being beyond the reach of our hands to grasp. But in opening ourselves up to the magnificence of its mystery we come to experience the spiritual horizon as a part of our own being.

The University of California, Berkeley Noted pastor and author Dr. Tim Keller speaks on "Belief in an Age of Skepticism?"

Here's the link back to the original post which may have changed if you are reading this somewhere other than my blog.

Spreading confusion in an age of gods, at 17:36 Dr. Keller puts up a straw-man pseudo self-defeating characterisation of how evolutionary science explains a human tendency to believe in gods. By 20:00-ish he has got to this point: Our "belief forming faculties don't tell you what is there - they only help us to survive". He goes on to say "evolutionary scientists use that scalpel on everything else [except evolutionary science]. I think there's a god... you were just programmed for that. I believe in morality... you were just programmed for that. I believe in evolution..." At 20:37 he looks sideways at the audience and waits for his laugh. It is a cheap trick.

His argument goes on to attempt to say that our belief in evolutionary theory should be subject to the same critique. This is the point at which he loses my vote. This kind of phoney-rational attempt to use rationality to defeat itself is a cheap trick. Either he understands the fallacy of the trick he is using in which case he is deliberately misleading his audience, or he does not understand the fallacy in which case accidentally misleading his audience.

The reason we know evolutionary theory is correct, is not a function of belief, it is a function of evidence. The belief forming capacity provided to us by evolution is only a starting point for the scientific method.

The scientific method goes on from there, rather than relying on that belief forming capacity.
It looks for evidence to support the theory, and looks to see whether any possible state of affairs in the world could falsify the theory. Theories that and not candidates for falsification by the same token equally are not candidates for scientific theories. That's why evolutionary theory passes the test, as does the use of antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.

It equally well explains why the realm of the spiritual cannot either be supported by nor undermined by the scientific method at least its very early days in this endeavour. As yet most crossover between these realms is indirect to at the very least.

The idea that spiritual "beliefs" lead to enlightenment is a misunderstanding. The fixation on beliefs is a barrier to enlightenment. Holding tightly to our beliefs, we fail to see all the wonder of life that is excluded by them.

We become enlightened by giving up beliefs (sometimes by having them forcibly removed from us), not by deliberately taking up new ones. Of course however many beliefs we give up, there are always new ones waiting on the other side of our shattered illusions.

Being human I doubt we can ever be free from beliefs altogether, any more than we can be free from having a body. Maybe that will be possible someday. In the meantime it is useful to appreciate how blind and ignorant we are since that makes the process of having our beliefs destroyed more amenable.

See: My discussion with David Mcleish

If you take what I say here to be a "belief", it might indeed seem to be self contradictory.
But if you take these words to be more like a means of getting from one place to another place it becomes clearer how they manage to do this. Like a move in a game of chess, the move can only happen by virtue of all the previous moves in the game that led up to the pieces being in the particular configuration that they are when you make that move. If the pieces were not in that position, you (a) could not make that move or if you could it would not have the same significance, (b) Making that move would not make any sense. If you think of propositions as being more that routes over a landscape, paths that can be traversed to move from one place to another, (contrasted to rorty's useful tools or the classical idea of language as being representative) then there is no contradiction. What I said here is only a route from one place to another place. There is no requirement to make any claim as to whether it is "true belief" or not, nor whether it is "useful" or not.

Language turns out to not the house of being after all. Rather it is the route-planner of being.

If you think of what is being said as a PATH that leads from one place to another place, rather than being itself a place. In particular it is a PATH that leads to a place in which talking is more about paths than it is about places.

Incidentally, the realm to which I am addressing this, is the realm of the doubtable. We don't need to have beliefs about things which are not doubtable. I don't doubt where the door to the building is, etc. There is no mystery about that.

There is a mystery about why the universe exists as opposed to not existing. This is the kind of domain where it makes sense to have beliefs - or at least you have to practice really really hard to transcend having them.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Tim Minchin - Storm

So certain is he! 8-)

He overstates his case, but eloquently done.

If you are not viewing this on the blog, I am talking about this: Tim Minchin - Storm

Maggie Doyne - winner of the 2009 $100,000 "Do Something! Award"

Maggie Doyne, winner of the 2009 $100,000 "Do Something! Award", is a 22-year-old American living in rural Nepal with 26 kids. She funds nearly 100 kids’ school tuition and has found homes for over 700 other children throughout the region. Her accomplishments include working with medical non-profits like "Facing the World" to provide medical treatment for children.

Maggie Doyne is following her heart...

You can meet Maggie Doyne at the European Summit for Global Transformation, November 20, 21 and 22, 2009

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Why is the universe SO BIG?

Why is the universe SO BIG?

Apart from the obvious answer, because that's how big it is, lets consider for a moment.

In his "An Introduction to Metaphysics", 1935, Martin Heidegger boldly asserts that the fundamental mystery of being, or being human, is this: Why is there ANYTHING rather than nothing? He was writing in German and sometimes it gets translated as "Why are there beings rather than nothing?" but I don’t think that is an especially good translation. In any case we know what he means, right? It’s a mystery. It is the fundamental question that no one knows the answer to.

(For sure some people pretend they know the answer but the honest truth, at least as at the date of today’s blog entry and the risk that some breaking news headline on the 24 hour news channel being that someone just found out the answer, is that nobody knows. If you are a high-school student reading this blog, and you have a teacher who has convinced you that someone knows the answer, or you’ll understand when you get older or any of that other nonsense let me give you the treat of honesty: they are lying to you. Nobody knows. Adults are often embarrassed to admit there is something they don’t know, so if you are wondering why it is not breaking news that nobody knows the answer to the most fundamental question of being, the reason is that for the most part people don’t like talking about it.)

If I was given the opportunity to contribute to the design of a historic monument, a huge Palace of Westminster type building or building of state such as the Whitehouse, or the Capitol building in Washington D.C., above the plinth over the main entrance doorway I would propose to have this question CAST IN STONE. It is the fundamental question that lies at the root of human ignorance, and whether we consciously notice it or not, we live are lives against the background of our ignorance as to the answer. If indeed there is an answer. If indeed the question is answerable or unanswerable or ultimately nonsensical and meaningless, all this aside, we as human beings cannot help but live our lives against a background of this question’s mystery and majesty. It is a question that lurks there in the dark places, and quietly in the stillnesses waiting for us to fall in to its web.

However for those of us who are willing to consider the question, there is these days another question that starts to present itself. In 1935 Heidegger did not have at his disposal all of the latest information cosmologists and spectroscopists and theoretical physicists have been giving us about how utterly huge and extraordinary the universe is.

The universe is utterly extraordinary. Garik Israelian predicts that within the next 20 years we will have unequivocal proof of other earth-like planets around sun-like stars – in other words proof that the conditions for life as we know it exist in other places in our universe besides the one we happen to find ourselves on.

As I start to consider the question in the light of our more recent discoveries, the question that dawns in my mind is not merely why is there anything rather than nothing. The question is rather how did there get to be SO MUCH of everything. Not merely why is there anything rather than nothing but why is there SO MUCH?

There’s a lot of stuff in the universe. A LOT of stuff. If someone was trying to make some kind of spiritual statement about the validity of the whole creation project they could have achieved it completely without having made so much stuff. Even if the universe was half the size, or a quarter of the size, or a hundredth or a thousandth of the size, as far as we are concerned here on planet earth going about our day to day lives nothing would be obviously a lot different, and the whole sky at night thing would still be just as for the most part impressive as it is. Why go to the bother of creating all that dark matter and dark energy which together apparently account for 96% of the known the universe ( )? This is stuff which we know must be there otherwise our theories of gravity are wrong, but on the other hand thus far we have not been able to get any direct evidence for it. Is god doing this just to give physicists a question that they can’t answer? As if there aren’t enough of those with trying to get the science of quantum mechanics and relativity to fit together in the same universe. Any way enough about the science, my point is really just that the creator god, as far as we know, has gone to an awful lot more trouble than she really needed to if she was simply trying to prove a point about her capacity for creativity. Why make all of this stuff, just for us?

Anyone who isn’t completely blinkered must be starting to take seriously the prospect that the earth and the life on it are just one of the creator god’s many projects, and possibly not even a particularly favorite one. Perhaps one that she put together in passing, an early draft version of something she went on to do much better somewhere else.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Giving up "knowing" as a religious position

"Either there is a god or there isn't." Sounds straightforward, doesn't it! No one is going to argue with that, are they!

If you do a google search on the exact phrase "Either there is a god or there isn't." (you have to put quotes around it to search for the exact phrase), you will find there are approximately 17,900 web pages on Google's index that contain that exact phrase.

Seemingly a statement of the obvious, a statement that surely must be "true", cannot not be true. A statement akin to a whole category of statements that sound straightforwardly tautological... Either I am sitting on a chair or I am not sitting on a chair. Either I am typing at my keyboard or I am not typing at my keyboard. Either it is Thursday 1st October, or it is not Thursday 1st October. Logicians will probably say "Either X or Not X."

How can such a statement of either/or (either X or not X) fail to be true?

Even so over the last 100 years, scientists have got used to the idea that the universe may not be so simple. Electromagnetic radiation notoriously behaves both as though it is a particle phenomenon AND as though it is NOT a particle phenomenon. Both as though it is a wave phenomenon AND as though it is NOT a wave phenonmenon. Quantum mechanics further leads us to conclusions like that we necessarily can NOT know for certain whether various physical properties are the case or are not the case. The nature of the universe is such that it is impossible for us to know for certain, we can only know within a range of probability. Before we open the box, Schrodinger's cat is BOTH alive AND dead. How very unsettling is that.

Now I have a suspicion, that the nature of God is at least as unnowable as the nature of the universe. That at the very least. Possibly god is more unknowable than the nature of the universe, but I would guess that she is certainly at least that unknowable.

Perhaps God is nothing like we suppose she is, and being nothing like we suppose she is, it is unfair on her for us to even refer to her as God. Unfair because that makes it sound like we know what we're talking about.

I have a suspicion that we SO do NOT know what we're talking about, when we talk about god, that we should do our utmost to not make it sound like we do. What would that sound like? How would it be to speak about god in that way?

I am suggesting not only that we give up knowing what the answer is, but that we give up knowing what the question is. In fact that we simply give up knowing period.

This is different from agnosticism. The word agnostic at least has been used to label people who feel that we cannot know for sure the answer to various fundamental questions about the nature of the universe, and our relationship with God.

When I recommend that we give up knowing, I am suggesting something much more radical than this. I am suggesting that we give up the whole domain of Knowing as a mode of operating with respect to spiritual endeavour. I am suggesting that knowing is not useful in the domain of the spiritual.

By contrast lets suppose that we did know. How would that help us? Lets suppose the argument was over and everyone agreed about the nature of God/god/nogod. How would that make anything better? I suppose we wouldn’t be able to fight about it anymore, but probably we would just be fighting about something else. When you actually start to examine and get down into the nature of religious fighting, what you discover is that the people fighting are people who want to be fighting, and they have chosen God/god/nogod as their subject to fight about. Equally though, other people who like fighting choose to make their arena the Arsenal vs. Spurs match (football if you aren’t from the UK), or who can bag the most land or oil or diamonds or drugs.

When you look at it, what actually has knowing done for us w.r.t. spirituality? What has knowing been useful for? Has it provided any benefits to anyone, and if so who and what were those benefits? In the exterior objective realm, knowing is obviously very useful and provides enormous benefits to everyone.

Couldn't it possibly be a mistake to think the interior collective and interior individual realms would be equally susceptible to knowing as a useful mode of exploration. I would suggest that in the interior collective and interior individual realms NOT knowing is actually more productive.

Are we able as a community to raise ourselves up to the level at which we openly acknowledge and explore the realm of not knowing w.t.f. is going on in the universe. We don’t know, and we don’t know and we don’t know. There is a mystery at the heart of being; why is there anything rather than nothing? We simply don't know. We don’t have an f-ing clue and when we pretend to the children that we do we are simply lying to try to protect them from the truth. The truth is that we don’t know. The truth is that we haven’t got a steaming pile of pooh of a clue. Can we as community raise ourselves up to the level of celebrating our collective ignorance? This is the question that counts.