To My Fellow Skeptics (and Believers Too)

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The first few times I heard about God, I was already suspicious. My earliest clear memory of it was when I was five, leaning against the screen door of our small town home with my older sister, watching a midsummer thunderstorm unfold.

We were in awe, like I have been at every thunderstorm since. I don’t remember if I asked, but my sister said it was God who made the lightning and thunder. Not that she was ever religious, that’s just what her eight-year old mind told me that day. I took note.

At that point, nearly all of my ideas about God had come from Family Circus comics. The kids each prayed every night before bed, depicted casually as if it’s something every normal person does. In one comic, Dolly prays for her father to make it home safely from his trip to New York. The opposite panel shows a rainy street scene in which a six-foot translucent hand stops her Dad from stepping in front of a speeding taxi.

Seriously?

Later on, in my teenage years, I would recognize the Family Circus to be a conservative, unapologetically fundamentalist cartoon, but at the time I wasn’t aware of the play of politics in the things I read and watched. I just knew that the God they depicted didn’t make a whole lot of sense. This was the idea of God I had, and I rejected it, because it made sense to do so.

Sometime in junior high, when I was becoming more politically aware, I remember being shocked one day when I realized that ordinary adults — too old for the likes of the Family Circus — actually still believed in this God thing. Not just the crazies on televangelist shows either, but real, respectable adults who could be found in church on any given Sunday, singing hymns while looking upward with their eyes closed, really believing that they were in contact with this big translucent man, presumably when he’s not busy casting lightning bolts over my hometown, or saving Bil Keane from the natural consequences of wandering into traffic without looking both ways.

Before then I thought God was meant to be something like Santa Claus. As you grow into an adult, reason and knowledge would eventually descend on your world, like it or not, and you’d have to leave certain ideas behind, along with whatever comfort they brought you.

Whenever I questioned adults about the sense in believing in this God, I got a lot of wayward explanations but the gist of them was that this was an area where reason didn’t really apply. God was so powerful that he was off limits to the kind of deductive reasoning or doubt you’d eventually develop about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

By eight, Santa Claus was dead to me, and so was God.

The The God Delusion Delusion

As a teenager I learned about religion’s violent track record throughout history, the inquisitions and crusades, sexual abuse and repression of science, and developed a vicious disdain for it altogether.

Had I known about him, Richard Dawkins might have been my hero. Dawkins is a brilliant Oxford-taught scientist, known for his work on genetic evolution, but perhaps moreso as one of the world’s most prominent advocates for atheism.

Last week I borrowed the audio version of his anti-religious book, The God Delusion. In it he attacks any and all arguments for the existence of God and the practice of religion.

Pausing briefly at the outset to exclude Taoism and Buddhism from his criticism, on the grounds that they are philosophies rather than religions, he goes on to dismiss any style of theism, of belief in any interpretation of any God for any reason, as irrational and delusional. Agnosticism, too, he brushes aside, as less logical than de facto atheism.

On that level — logic — he’s right on. His arguments are thoroughly rational, laid out in hard words, inviting inspection by the reader, impervious to all the traditional arguments.

And that’s the problem. He seems to take for granted that rational thinking is the only way to come to dependable understanding of the universe. For this too, he gives his reasons, and I can’t really argue with them.

He made the same mistake I did as a teen. He associated a certain idea with God, the contemporary one: a contrived, wishful idea of an unstoppable Big Brother who will ultimately keep us from harm — and blasted every mention of the G-word to pieces, under the rigid belief that there can’t be anything real or meaningful behind it.

Listening to the audiobook (read by an openly scornful Dawkins, with his wife for backup) I got a strong sense of baby-with-the-bathwater carelessness. He found a mental position he liked, fortified it with logic, plugged all the holes, and started shooting. I returned it after a few CDs.

A letter to my fellow skeptics

What if, Dr Dawkins (or any fellow skeptic), you had an experience of a particular kind that you can’t really explain?

You catch a fleeting glimpse of, well, you can’t really say. Words fail you, but you try anyway: “I’ve witnessed, uh, something… some distinct experience in which I’ve seen the perfection and limitless beauty of the world. I believe, no… I know that I was seeing with utter clarity, and that it was not the way I normally see the world. I saw clearly that I was one with the universe, that unconditional love is its basis, and that I am an eternal being and not a hapless, mortal creature.” Already you sound nuts, even to yourself.

You search for the terms to explain the quality of it, and cringe when the only word you can summon is “divine.” Every stab you take at conveying your experience only amounts to a disappointing, evasive-sounding cliché:

  • There is something more to us
  • Everything is in its right place, we just can’t see that
  • There is a higher intelligence behind all this

Whatever it is, you have a very strong sense that its cultivation is immeasurably valuable, not just as a means of achieving peace and ease in your life, but for others to do the same. It is, clearly, exactly what humanity needs in order to overcome — no, transcend — its current palette of troubles. For this reason you feel it is important for others to have this experience too.

But nothing you can say about it, no anecdote or soliloquy can help you describe it without sounding (to yourself and undoubtedly to others) as a quack, a nutcase — or worse — religious.

Nor can you find any evidence for what you’ve experienced, and you know that there is none, because it is something that happened to you, and not to the material world in front of you. There is no objective, physical evidence for you and a fellow person to examine and share your conclusions about it. No peer reviews, no replication, no leg to stand on in a debate.

What would you do with these feelings?

Would you toss them out, on the grounds that they are unprovable, incommunicable, unscientific? Would you attempt to quantify them somehow, do a study on it? With nothing to measure, nothing objective to observe, you know this is impossible.

When you discover the sheer impossibility of conveying your discovery in conventional, rational terms, you find yourself talking in spiritual-sounding “pointers” — vague, cryptic clues that make you sound like a pretentious Zenster wanna-be.

It’s not something you can let go of though. And that’s because, even though you’d never say it out loud, you know beyond all argument that it is the Alpha and the Omega, it is the peace that passeth all understanding, the sound of one hand clapping, the noise of the tree that falls in the forest with no one around, and all that.

It’s unmentionable, unmanifested, the opposite of “things” and “stuff”, beyond thought — all sorts of other descriptors that are perfectly meaningless and hokey to the staunchly scientific, rational thinker.

Skeptics will always reject your “pointers” as mumbo jumbo, because they don’t provide the skeptic’s only demand: evidence. Your personal experience is wholly subjective, so no matter how profound it is to you, it leaves nothing with which to convince others.

And convincing people isn’t possible anyway, because your discovery isn’t a belief. It is knowledge, but it isn’t a fact. It isn’t a story, or a version of something or other. You could call it a “truth”, maybe adorn it with a capital T, but then you sound like a flake again.

Perhaps you’re stuck with this private understanding — which you don’t really understand, at least not in the same way you might understand, say, the rules of Major League Baseball — and you can’t just pass it along to somebody else like any other knowledge. You can either talk about it in vague, roundabout terms, confusing people all along the way, or just keep it to yourself.

Yet, other people throughout history and today’s society seem to have discovered the same thing, and not all of them strike you as nutjobs. In fact, most of them appear to be unusually sane.

Faithful Skepticism

About five hundred years ago, skepticism became the dominant attitude among the scholars of Europe. They had discovered, quite rightly, that human knowledge is more dependable when you require it to be supported by evidence. Simple enough. What was called “Natural Philosophy” came to be called science, and human understanding of the universe quickly mushroomed.

The advances were so great and so beneficial, that the attitude evolved from a helpful rule of thumb, to what can only be called a dogma. To most scientifically-minded people, including the world’s most brilliant minds, knowledge can’t be knowledge without evidence.

That means claims of anything that happens only to an individual, with no external indicators to confirm it to others, gets rejected categorically, often with ridicule.

Not everyone was on board with this. Michel de Montaigne, a French essayist, showed that skepticism could undermine itself. Just as it can be used to refute claims without evidence, it can cast doubt on human reasoning and evidence as well. Evidence, too, must be taken on faith, and therefore the skeptic is better off embracing faith as his guide.

He advocated faith as the basis for one’s entire life, avoiding rigorous attempts to accumulate worldly knowledge, because by regarding empirical knowledge as categorically more certain than faith, it becomes dogma.

“God is Dead.”

~Nietzsche

I’m not saying I’ve come to believe in God. I mean, I could say that, but it would be misleading. The common conception of God is still some version of the Family Circus one: an omnipotent, impossibly convenient (and sometimes horrifying) creature, intervening in the material world in the most arbitrary and incomprehensible ways, helping the New Orleans Saints win the Super Bowl after nearly obliterating their hometown. And he loves you.

It makes no more sense to me than it ever did. That materialistic idea of God suffers from the exact same affliction as Dawkins’ over-reaching rejection of the whole thing: it defines God in objective terms, makes a mental picture of it — I won’t say “Him” — which is bound by words, defended with argument (as if winning such an argument could matter!), clenched desperately with emotions and ego, fought over like it’s anything but a personal revelation.

God is misunderstood, I think most of us can agree on that.

But as I get older, as I explore more philosophies and traditions, I’m seeing rather clearly what God was meant to be, before being mangled by religion, before being argued into meaninglessness and conceptualized to death.

I’ll talk more about what the word God means to me in a future post. I think it may make sense to you.

I am still an advocate of skepticism as a mindset, but I don’t think of it the same way anymore. I know now that you can know something without evidence, without the approval of others. And I know that all of us, Dawkins included, are incurable believers.

R

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{ 119 Comments }

Jason September 7, 2010 at 12:36 am

@Partha

What is obvious to me is that “spirituality,” like “religion” is an ambiguous term used to describe any mysterious or awe-inspiring experience one has. You assume that I am using the term “religion” and thinking of just the big 5 major religions. I do mean those but also religion in its root meaning of link, tie, or dependence on the divine. So you can certainly quote the Buddha or Christ on one hand and make claims about what spirituality is as opposed to religion but they are just informal and formal ways of saying the same thing – an unexplainable experience or feeling occurs, one thinks it over and gives it a name, one yearns to have that experience again because it becomes a source of meaning, one tells others about this new “truth” and eventually rituals and books follow. From a psychological point of view, this is very obvious.

“And spiritual truths and beliefs can very well be proved, and spiritual falsehoods (even if widely believed) disproved.” Please prove/disprove to me that Christ was born of a virgin and came back from the dead. Or that souls are reincarnated based on past deeds. Perhaps you will claim these are authority-based dogmas as opposed to “spiritual truths” but then I have to ask – aren’t many of these dogmas originally based on “spiritual experiences?

Onto the scientific method…I think you were chasing a red herring there…I never claimed that science excluded inspiration, intuition, subconscious rumination, etc. What I did say is that the scientific method is rational, self-correcting, and non-ideological. By incorporating a feedback loop, science weeds out bad theories and keeps good ones, thus building knowledge. Not fully understanding the mathematics behind general relativity doesn’t preclude me from knowing that it’s a pretty good description of how the physical universe works. Is it true? Science isn’t really out to prove or disprove what is truth (Popper, et al). Furthermore, I trust math because I understand the logic that underlies it. So while a physicist will use math that is well beyond me, I know that the reasoning behind their conclusions is logical, consistent and subject to the scrutiny of other physicists.

“So if some Yogi in India sees the entity in his heart Chakra that I was talking about, and merging with that deity gives him empirically verifiable powers (or insights), why on earth would anyone baulk at that?”

Quite a leap there…why should anyone doubt any transcendental (religious or spiritual?) experience is real? Well, I have already stated it but let’s be clear – our biology/neurology is pretty amazing – we are capable of seeing/experiencing all sorts of things that are both there and not there. Hallucinations, illusions delusions, etc are very “real” phenomenon. Any simple psychology or neurology textbook will include multiple examples. Whether you invest one day or multiple decades “practicing” witchcraft, astrology, or numerology; you will be no better position to say whether any of these is true or false because there is no objective basis for disproving the belief-based conclusions that underlie these systems of thought. Which isn’t to say that believing in and practicing such things can’t be rewarding on an emotional or social level.

“Investing a great deal of himself” is telling. Sunk cost and choice-supportive bias are active enemies of objectivity. We are all seeking meaning and we are all primed to get attached to whatever it is we find.

Alexander Gieg September 12, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Trying to share such an experience with someone that hasn’t had it can be difficult, or even impossible. The usual example is that of a person that can see trying to explaining to a blind-from-birth on what colors are like. Saying that “red” is “warm” and “blue” is “cold” is the best you can do.

That’s not the case, however, when you try to share it with others that also had such experiences. In this case a terminology is derived with which to discuss these experiences, their nuances and variations. And such discussion lead, over time, to the development of different “schools of thought” on them, each with its own approach to the thing.

All major religions have, each one, one or more such “esoteric” schools (not to be confused with occultism). On some religions, such as Islam, they’re acknowledged but sharply distinguished from the non-esoteric (a.k.a. “exoteric”) mainstream. On others, such as Eastern Orthodox Christianity and many branches of Buddhism, they are so merged with the mainstream practices you cannot easily draw the line on where the exoteric ends and the esoteric begins.

However, whatever the shape, they offer something people having spontaneous experiences really need: a framework in which to better understand what they’re experiencing and, more importantly, techniques to develop such experiences in a productive way. That’s because, as is the case with empirical sciences, you don’t start from zero by directly entering Ph.D. territory. Lots of previous “researchers” traveled the path before, so it pays to study the simplified basics, then deepen it in the, so to speak, “high school” level of the matter (which also starts teaching you the many ways in which one can err and how to avoid it, think practice lab), deepen it way more via the “undergraduate” route, advance the specialization into a “master’s degree”, and only then begin doing the actual “new stuff” Ph.D.s are known for.

So, if I can make a suggestion it’s that, if you’re interested in developing this, you’d try determining which religion among the major ones is more in line with the way you are, then find about its esoteric schools and which one, in turn, is more akin to help you develop the experience in fruitful ways.

Authors in the field of comparative religion and, within it, “comparative esoterism” (as far as I know this expression doesn’t exist, but there are authors out there that clearly specialize on this aspect) can really help. A lot.

IMHO, Buddhism, in its non-theistic versions (Theravada and Zen come to mind), is the most comfortable one for people that came to dislike the idea of gods, so that’s a safe bet. Otherwise, Eastern Orthodoxy is quite nice too, specially given how “near” (hence less strange) it is to Western culture.

Just take care to stay away from occultisms, theosophy, new age movements, and similar things. They seem similar to esoteric schools at first sight, but once you become familiar with the later you start noticing quite clearly how much the former lack in any kind of depth.

These are my 2 cents. I hope you find them useful.

Henway September 15, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Very good post. Also, in a sense the scientific method is actually a “leap of faith” of some sorts. You have faith in the idea/concept that developing experiments and observations will always lead to truth, but recent science experiments such as the observer/observed physics one show that observing can actually influence the results. A real skeptic would say “Hmmm.. maybe the scientific method isn’t everything after all.. can we really trust it in all cases?”

Also, when it comes to cultivating inner peace and developing meaning in our life, we can’t afford to wait for some science finding, or experiment to tell us what we believe is absolutely, positively right. It’s not a matter of being sure you’re right, it’s a matter of inner peace. You can be right, and still have existentialism =)

Most of the good philosophies though, such as Buddhism don’t depend on a leap of faith. You practice it and then see for yourself what’s true, and what’s not.

Adam October 2, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Quote:
“I am still an advocate of skepticism as a mindset, but I don’t think of it the same way anymore. I know now that you can know something without evidence, without the approval of others. And I know that all of us, Dawkins included, are incurable believers.”

I know exactly what you mean.

I find it interesting that most of us often overlook “the enlightenment” part of “the period of enlightenment” that roughly started with Descartes. The revolutionary realization among the giants of science at the time was that we are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge is instead determined only by direct experience derived from sense perception. The core of their ‘aha’ was to “remain skeptical of all existing concepts and beliefs and trust direct and present experience”. So it really isn’t an either or question as much as a melting together of skepticism and present experience which results in a more complete state of attentiveness. Thus one has a taste of how the objective world can be observed differently and yet remain verifiable by others.

This is really no different from what Taoism, Buddism or Zen teaches us. Both science and religion inherently make “progress” by the same means. Both science and religion essentially make progress towards truth by backing away from untruth. The main difference is the aim – science aims to understand the objective world, while religion aims to make sense of subjective experience.

Karl Popper, one of the most influential philosophers of science of the last century, actually denied the existence of evidence and the scientific method itself. His insight is that there is only one universal method – the negative method of trial and error.

“It is through the falsification of our suppositions that we actually get in touch with ‘reality’. It is the discovery and elimination of our errors which alone constitute that ‘positive’ experience which we gain from reality.” – Karl Popper

The history of scientific discoveries bears support to his observation that scientific discoveries are arrived at not through some positive method of discovery but through a constant process of trial and error, repeated rigorous experimentation and the discovery of the false contents of our assumptions.

p.s.
If one doubts fully(concepts and beliefs) one will come to a deeper experience(of either object or subject) and if one experiences deeply one will fully doubt. They’re one and the same thing just different entry points.

This is one of the few blogs I actually enjoy reading. Just a great blog.

Mosa October 17, 2010 at 9:23 pm

all these time i thought you perfectly make sense in every post. but this post changed my mind.

Chris January 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm

I suppose a lot of critically thinking people have gone on similar paths to the author, myself included. I went from a religious upbringing, to skepticism, to atheism. At the same time I went from a mainly emotions-based logic system to one more rational and based on psychological research and attitudes. Knowing just how much our brains work against us is comforting in a way the other areas aren’t.

Humans are an animal, the smartest animal of them all. This intelligence came with the cost of us wondering “why” we existed. Science is, in my opinion, the best answer to these deep questions. Neuroscience keeps coming closer and closer to getting at the quirks and emotions of being human that haven’t been explained yet and chalked up to some sort of spirituality.

Does a dolphin think it has a soul? It doesn’t, but it’s self-aware and even, like humans, enjoys masturbating. What is so terrifying about finding out that your behavior, even your intellect, is mainly genetics, culture, and those genetics’s electrical impulses in your physical brain? We’re here on Earth, a place we’re rapidly destroying, in a universe that we’ve come to more understandings of through science than we ever did with religion.

As for that spiritual feeling — besides doing drugs, which I have done, I once encountered an amazing feeling of happiness and contentment after reading a book about a certain CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) called ACT that features some buddhist ideas in it. Thanks to the therapy, I was in a zen state of mind for a couple days (before worry about bills and other things started to set in). If that isn’t what spiritual transcendence feels like, I don’t know what is — but it was simply a method of making my brain work better for me and avoiding the mental pitfalls that plague our species. No ‘god’ in any sense involved.

David January 12, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Hi Chris. Great comment, thank you.

There is a problem with deferring only to science. Science can only deal with objective data that can be corroborated.

Science is good at investigating things that can be measured, and seen by more than one person. This makes it suitable for assessing almost everything in the physical world.

But it cannot help us understand phenomena where there’s nothing apparent to measure, or no form to observe objectively.

Look at psychology. It’s meant to be the study of the mind, but it isn’t because most people reasoned it wasn’t possible to study the mind the way we study, say, chemistry. William James was a proponent of studying the mind’s activity directly, through personal meditation, but the scientific community rejected this approach because it would have to be based on subjective data. After all, nobody can look into another person’s mind. So psychology became the study of behavior, and anything it tells us about the mind is indirect — our knowledge about the mind can only be inferred from what the subject is observed to do.

Neuroscience is great but we can only use it to learn about consciousness indirectly by observing behavior and biochemistry. Observing brainwaves is not the same as observing thought. The observation of thought and other mental phenomena is something that can only be done by an individual, upon himself, and it can never be corroborated or quantified.

I love science. But there are areas where it is just ill-suited for advancing our knowledge. The nature of human consciousness is not something that can be studied very well from a conventional scientific approach. I believe all the major religions were initially intended as inquiries into the potential of human consciousness, through the cultivation of lifestyles shown to be conducive to reaching higher human mental states. All of the mythology and dogma surrounding religions today are irrelevant offshoots of their original intentions. Wisdom became rules. It ceased to be about personal transformation and became about political allegiance and worldly power.

Those who believe science is the only viable approach for understanding the universe are dogmatists too. That it is suitable for every inquiry is an enormous assumption many don’t realize they’re making. It is an assumption that your “Zen” state of mind was the result of some biochemical process in your brain, and that spiritual transformation is nothing but brain activity. This is a belief — it has not and cannot be corroborated. Science is a way of generating reliable beliefs, not that you came to yours scientifically.

I suspect God is not the conceptual Family Circus overseer that today’s religion seems to characterize, but rather an as-yet-only-glimpsed aspect of human consciousness — which is not what it appears to be, and almost certainly isn’t reducible the electrical brain activity biologists think it is.

To get at these notions, we should put scientific conventions aside for a moment, noting their usefulness but also their limitations. The inadequacy of a scientific approach is why we end up with so much poetry, analogy, allegory, non-conceptual riddles and seeming nonsense when we talk about religion – we can’t go the scientific route to these understandings because there is nothing to test, nothing duplicable, and nothing observable by more than one person. It must be gotten to individually, aided by hints that are bound to go over the head of most people, who will either dismiss it as nonsense, or think that they get it and make up some explanation about why it’s true and what it means.

If the answer to the deepest questions you mention can only be realized by observing human consciousness directly — and I’d bet they are — then science can’t help us find them, because it can only deal with phenomena two people can see.

Jason January 12, 2011 at 7:01 pm

David, I think you are defining science rather narrowly and then conveniently rejecting it as an approach to the “deep questions” of existence and human nature.

Science more broadly understood as methodical rational inquiry can include subjective experimentation like introspection and meditation. As long as someone is observing a phenomenon, making inferences and hypotheses, and then testing it with further observation or experimentation, they are doing science. If the scientific community rejects this, they do so more out of lack of proper standards and techniques of measurement rather than rejection of the method. Luckily, advances are always taking place.

So you can observe thought and call it science…indeed observation of thought is the beginning of philosophy, the seat of science as systematic, logical inquiry into nature. Neuroscience is an extension rather than a replacement for this first science. It is the gradual refinement of tools and techniques to get at the answers we are seeking.

What science and logic doesn’t accept is irrationally derived, anecdotal evidence as valid for a generalization to reality. “For example, I was walking in the woods and suddenly felt the presence of the divine is not science.”

Lastly, there is always something apparent to measure or no measurement would be attempted.

Chris January 12, 2011 at 7:49 pm

“Everything is in its right place” is absolute bullshit. Tell that to the starving and the dying. The world is a product of million of years of adaptative chaos. You’ve written about this topic before, and while your argument that constantly thinking about suffering isn’t doing much has some merit, I also think most people will take that as an excuse to think the world is just dandy and once again become complacent. It isn’t. We’re all selfish, just in different degrees, and that’s what is ruining everything. I don’t think I’m special, a unique “energy”. I’m just human.

You are a human being that has lead a relatively privileged existence, so much so that you can start to think about your thinking (metacognition) and the “magic energy” behind it all. I can get behind a lot of the stuff on this blog — the pitfalls of consumerism, using self-reflection, and appreciating what’s given to us — especially because you haven’t been shoving an ebook down your readers throats. But if self-help really worked, the genre would’ve stopped a long time ago. When will “Raptitude” stop? I feel like this genre of blogs just keeps pushing out content that is all essentially the same message. When is enough enough?

It is time now in the history of humanity to throw away the outdated notions of “being respectful of ones religious beliefs.” There are absolute moral right and wrongs that must be enforced when the technology exists to destroy the world in a day. The leader of North Korea is a madman. So are Islamic terrorists, and while Christians against homosexuals are less dangerous, they still are dangerous. When an organized religion such as Islam condones shaming women for being women, not to mention stoning and burning them, then we have a situation which does not benefit the human species. Religion is an outdated way of thinking that proved beneficial to our species but has outstayed its welcome. Science doesn’t have all the answers, but it’s a better approach to questioning.

The theory of evolution has so much overwhelming evidence, that it is both theory and fact. They can coexist, which people who are anti-science can’t seem to understand. Those that decry rational, skeptical thinking believe that the skeptics aren’t fully “living”. That’s also false — I believe that something like “love” is an abstract idea that feels physically palpable in my body, and I think it’s a great sensation us humans have. You see other animals being nurturing to their partners. We just make it more complicated since we’re more advanced creatures. That doesn’t mean I haven’t “loved” someone in the romantic sense. I just don’t over-romanticize it and think it’s some mystical thing. It’s incredibly important to our lives, but it’s a byproduct of the evolutionary need to reproduce.

In a way, David, you think you have it figured out, in that you view the traditional thinking ways of society to be ineffective. That’s why you started this website. I’ve heard the whole thing about how the “common conception” of God is wrong, but this spiritual energy is the real way. It’s what a person smart enough to realize the ridiculous of the monotheistic Abrahamic god thinks when they realize that story is a myth. It’s what the hippies thought. Their beliefs were revolutionary, but look at where we are now.

Blogs like this are self-help, and more and more are cropping up with people traveling the world and blogging about it, using website and ebook funds to maintain, for a little while, a non-sustainable lifestyle. They generally use positivity pseudo-psychology and feelings-based rationalization. I’m not saying that it’s non-beneficial — I’m sure your readers get some sense of relief in agreeing with your posts. But that simply proves that inquiry into the suffering of our lives, and a search for answers, is something humans have been at for thousands of years. You’re simply another person giving opinions.

David January 13, 2011 at 9:27 pm

You’re all over the place here, I don’t really know what you’re trying to say.

But it’s clear you think people can be divided cleanly into archetypes, and that you’ve met me a thousand times before. I am primarily a science-minded skeptic too, but recently I’ve realized that it had become a dogmatic position for me, so I’m re-examining other schools of thought and I’m finding that maybe I didn’t have it all figured out.

What you typed above is your belief system. Those positions are similar to the ones I had maybe five years ago. Today my belief system is less firm, less certain, and that feels like progress to me.

If you think I’m just Tony Robbins waving a different flag, then you shouldn’t waste your time here. The internet is a big place.

John January 12, 2011 at 9:53 pm

i think your writings have been insightful. we have similar… thought processes i guess? i’m not sure what we share exactly, but i feel like i can understand you 90% of the time on a fairly intuitive level. that’s how i know you’re not just pulling it out of thin air. i just wanted to say thanks for the writing. i look forward to seeing more of it.

Katie February 15, 2011 at 9:06 am

Wow…this perfectly depicts what I have felt deep within for many years. My jaw dropped at least 5-6 times as the article continued and you would say something I have thought specifically while on my own path to understanding. (I prefer to replace “God” with “All” when it comes up…but still, it just isn’t possible to explain it fully or correctly to an outsider…this subjective knowing of the Truth.) Very well shared, David. Thank you!! And thank you for your site overall. A friend linked me here this morning and I have only read a few posts thus far but each one is reality and incredibly insightful. I look forward to scouring the rest of the site and learning from your wisdom. Peace and Love! -Katie

David February 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Hi Katie. I don’t want to use the word God either, it just stirs up too many misleading connotations. And I don’t want to use another word in its place either. That’s why this is so hard to talk about. :)

sui April 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Have you read this story? I think you would like it :) http://galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html

By the way, I’ve been reading your articles & delurking myself with this comment– so much of what you’ve written fits my life exactly at the right time I read it, and we agree on quite a number of things. Awesome! ♥

Doddly March 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Hey David! I was wondering if you will write more articles on this subject of god and spiritual experiences. I know its hard to describe it but its would nice to challenge people’s ideas and beliefs once in a while

David March 26, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Yes, I will. I haven’t gone in this direction for a while.

Goran March 5, 2013 at 8:48 am

What a way to wrap up the series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the idea of Headlessness. Throughout the series and especially in this post I was reminded of something Carl Sagan said: “We are the universe experiencing itself”. For me, this aphorism neatly packages everything you’ve written bout, from zen, to god, to science, to headlessness and everything in between. Respect for putting it all down in words so articulately — your writings are very much appreciated!

PianoManGidley September 2, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Just out of curiosity, are you familiar with dimethyltryptamine, a.k.a. “The God Drug”–a naturally-occurring chemical that activates a certain region in the brain that has been measured to give a strong feeling of spirituality? It’s just interesting that you talk about having a personal, subjective spiritual experience that cannot ever be measured by science or understood by skeptics, yet science has been able to do just that…at least in some degree.

I understand that the experience that you’re talking about can never REALLY be summed up with concepts in science or anything else, due to its wholly subjective nature outside of thought, but I think that understanding DMT’s role still offers valuable insight into this.

David September 3, 2013 at 9:59 am

> It’s just interesting that you talk about having a personal, subjective spiritual experience that cannot ever be measured by science or understood by skeptics, yet science has been able to do just that…at least in some degree.

I think DMT is a perfect example of how there is absolutely no scientific quantification or understanding possible of certain experiences. A physiological or psychological understanding of what is happening in the body during a DMT experience, no matter how complete, is something utterly different from a DMT experience. Science is very helpful in understanding certain properties related to experience, but it does not convey the experience, or understand the experiential aspect of any phenomenon. A scientist could study DMT his whole life and know absolutely nothing about the DMT experience if he does not experience it.

Dan November 20, 2013 at 8:54 am

Wow. Seriously stunned at how closely how paths parallel (right down to the Dawkins audio book and having the exact same impression). While I can’t say I’ve ever personally experienced that expanded oceanic feeling that you describe so wonderfully, I’ve read such a myriad of accounts that I don’t doubt its occurrence or implication.

Speaking of which, this is one of my favorite such accounts. In fact, it occurred to a scientist who, at the time, had considered himself a “materialistic atheist” (background and commentary are all there):

“My Experience of Cosmic Consciousness” by Allan Smith
http://www.issc-taste.org/arc/dbo.cgi?set=expom&id=00004&ss=1

That’s actually a great site to explore, with every account submitted by a scientist. Not all of them are to that degree, or even of that “Cosmic Consciousness” variety, but they are all worth checking out. Otherwise, this article highlights those that are most similar to Smith’s:

Scientists Get a TASTE of the Transcendent
http://disinfo.com/2013/09/scientists-get-a-taste-of-the-transcendent/

Here is Sadhguru recounting his experience:

http://youtu.be/zYXlOJlhf38

Also, saw a comment on here mentioning DMT, which reminded me of this essay from Alan Watts worth checking out:

Psychedelics and Religious Experience
http://deoxy.org/w_psyrel.htm

Thanks for the fantastic post.

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