Sunday, May 25, 2008

Neural Buddhism: Do neurons get reincarnated?

Everyone seems to be getting in on the act. Now Chuck Colson takes a whack at David Brooks's "neural Buddhism" (= the neuroscience wew are left with now that materialism has proven to be the Mud that failed).

Colson, a Christan evangelist, isn't at all happy with the Buddhism part:
The evidence from neuroscience is only part of the picture. While the mystical religious experiences and moral intuitions he writes about are shared by many religious traditions, there is no comparable evidence for Buddhism’s other claims: Its tenets about reincarnation and the illusory nature of physical existence cannot be substantiated.

The interesting thing, however, as Mario and I discussed in The Spiritual Brain, is that in 2005 materialist neuroscientists staged a big protest over the Dalai Lama giving a lecture at a neuroscience conference - because he believes in reincarnation.

We thought they were out of line for precisely the reason Colson gives: Neuroscience as a discipline can't really say anything meaningful about reincarnation. The Lama's belief that he is the reincarnation of the previous Lama is - from a neuroscience perspective - not researchable, so it is not a belief that should put him in conflict with neuroscientists.

Of course, the materialist objects to the belief because it implies some sort of survival beyond death - but that isn't about neuroscience either, it's about materialism. Fortunately, the protest was ignored and the lecture went ahead. Good thing because the Lama has been a stalwart supporter of neuroscience research.

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Humanity's hopeful signs: Disaster causes outpouring of charity in China

Columnist Paul Jacobs notes that the recent quake in China has stimulated a culturally unusual outpouring of personal and private charity, outstirpping government aid:

Alan Qiu, a Shanghai investor, puts it like this: "We grew up reciting Confucius saying that all men are born kind, but it takes a disaster like this to bring out the innate kindness of everyday human beings."
I am glad that the Chinese are permitted once again to recite Confucius. The injunction to charity could be very important for China's development. Years ago, I read an experienced aid worker's view that most people who are rescued in disasters are not rescued either by national or international agencies but by their own neighbours.

His view certainly makes sense on the face of it, because neighbours know about the illegal tenant in the basement apartment (and the government doesn't, right?). They know that an elderly woman cannot climb stairs (a fact she does not admit to the district nurse because she does not want to be pressured into a seniors' home far from the comforts she values).

I suspect that one reason that human beings have become so numerous as to generate "population bomb" scares among the elite is precisely the ingrained - or else easily developed - habit of rescue.


Incidentally, spiritually minded people are far more likely than others to be charitable. See, for example,

Altruism: Why it can't really exist but why it does anyway.

Social science: Why are the religious more charitable?

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On Jane Goodall, apes, human uniqueness, and God

As New Scientist has published yet another piece on why humans are supposedly not so special (about which more later maybe), a friend reminds me of a comment by primate specialist Jane Goodall, contemplating the Cathedral of Notre Dame:

"How could I believe it was the chance gyrations of bits of primeval dust that had led up to that moment in time-the cathedral soaring to the sky; the collective inspiration and faith of those who caused it to be built …and the mind that could, as mine did then, comprehend the whole inexorable progression of evolution? Since I cannot believe that this was the result of chance, I have to admit anti-chance. And so I must believe in a guiding power in the universe-in other words, I must believe in God" - Jane Goodall (1999) Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey Warner Books Inc, New York, NY

My own response to the sort of claims made in the New Scientist article is that I will take the claims seriously when I discover a primate ape (or wait, I will settle for a dolphin or an octopus) that is struggling with the question of what differentiates humans from their species. Even asking such questions or considering them important puts us clearly on one side of a great divide, however we came to be here and whatever it means. Consider the intelligent apes in Planet of the Apes. I don't know if they would build Notre Dame, but they would build something that embodied ideas in a way that the apes at the local sanctuary will not do, because they feel no inner need to do it.

You can read an excerpt on line.

Incidentally, she also says,
I was taught, as a scientist, to think logically and empirically, rather than intuitively or spiritually. When I was at Cambridge University in the early 1960s most of the scientists and science students working in the Department of Zoology, so far as I could tell, were agnostic or even atheist. Those who believed in a God kept it hidden from their peers.

Generally, people do not learn materialism from science, they interpret science in the darkness of materialism.

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