Friday, October 19, 2007

The Odd Sensations Produced by Neuron Fatigue

Our brains are amazing! We often take for granted the sensations and perceptions and phenomenological experience different clusters of neurons give us. We become acutely aware of what these neurons do when we induce fatigue in them. Here are a few examples:

1) Wernicke's area is involved in language comprehension. It is the area of the brain that allows us recognize the meaning of words. To fatigue this area, say the same word over and over and over again until the word doesn't even seem like a word anymore. There is this weird disconnect, it is like a flip has been switched and the word is now meaningless.

2) Our brains treat faces differently than other visual objects. Face recognition generally activates a different area of the brain -the right middle fusiform gyrus - than non-face object recognition. There have been some remarkable studies with split-brain patients that have shown if you present paintings of faces created out of inanimate objects such as vegetables to the part of the brain responsible for face recognition, the patient will say they saw a face, but if you present the same painting to the hemisphere that does not have the face recognition area, the patient will report that they only saw vegetables.

Anyway, if you want to fatigue the face recognition area of the brain, stare at a picture of a face for a long time, until you lose the sensation that you are looking at a face.

3) There are many more examples, but I want to skip to the cool stuff. Some people report that through meditation they can reach a state in which they can see their hand, but it no longer seems to be a part of them. It is like the hand is just as separate from them as the desk in front of them. There is a part of the brain responsible for making us feel like our body parts are part of us (very useful from an evolutionary stand point). Apparently, some drugs can produce that same sensation achieved through meditation.

4) The sense of self, which comes from an area of the brain behind the left ocular cavity, has been reportedly lost temporary during episodes of meditation.

There are other odd sensations, or rather loss of normal phenomenological sensations, that can be achieved through meditation or drug use. I think what meditation and drugs are doing is causing below normal activity in the parts of the brain responsible for those normal experiences.

Many people want to attribute something mystical or supernatural to these odd sensations. But, I believe they are produced by hypoactivity in specific parts of the brain responsible for things like making a word "feel" like a word, a face recognizable as a face, a hand being perceived as belonging to us, or for producing our sense of self.

We are amazing creatures, and I am facsinated by the inner world produced by a collection of neurons. No spirit seems to compensate for the abilities lost due to neural damage. The ability is just gone.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is the Truth about Reality Knowable?

The following is my response to mhedgpeth who posed the question on postmormon, "Is the truth about reality knowable?"

My response:

My everyday language would suggest that I have many beliefs which I do not. I don't believe in free will, yet I speak as if I do. I can doubt the validity of just about everything, yet my sentences are written as if I am certain about the statements I am making. I live with the ambiguity. I speak the way I do partly because that is the way English is structured, but also because our minds are trained to think as if we have free will and as if we are more certain about things than we can be.

Believe me, the irony is not lost on me.

I first read Rene Descarte when I was in Middle School. I think he is right in that nearly everything can be doubted. We very well could be in the Matrix in which everything we think is real is actually just computer software, or something else. If we see a table, feel a table, taste a table, hear a table, etc, all we have shown is consistency, not that it exists in reality. Descarte said that the only thing that he could not doubt is that he is doubting. He then coined the phrase, "I think, therefore I am". I believe that he did not go far enough. I think that I can doubt that I am doubting. I suggest that all we can know is that something is happening. So, there you have my core belief about certainty.

Now, in everyday life, acknowledging that there is little we can know for certain, I take an interest in this "something" that I perceive. I assume, fully recognizing that this is an assumption, that this world is real. Now, if it is real, I ask myself what can I learn about it. Through systematic observation, will we be able to detect some consistencies or patterns? Might we be able to organize our data and through inductive reasoning describe natural laws? Might we test our reasoning by making predictions about future observations? We refer to this process as science. I feel that science is the best tool we have to learn about this world we live in. It is not perfect, but I believe it is the best tool we have.

So, is truth about reality knowable? I do believe that an objective reality exists. I believe that we might come close to discovering the truth about parts of that reality. But, because we can always doubt that are findings and thinking on a particular subject reflect reality, I would suggest that we will not be able to "know for certain" that we are right. Therefore, I would say that the truth about reality is not likely to be knowable, although we may discover the truth without ever being able to be certain that we are right.

(Note: Did you catch those certain statements I made? I caught them, too. If I reword all of my sentences to reflect the uncertainty that I believe in, the sentences would become very difficult to read. So, now that you know where I am coming from, paint this whole post with uncertainty.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How to Protect Children Against Brainwashing

Perhaps it would be helpful if we first define our terms.

From wiki:

"Brainwashing (also known as thought reform or as re-education) consists of any effort aimed at instilling certain attitudes and beliefs in a person — sometimes unwelcome beliefs in conflict with the person's prior beliefs and knowledge."

From phinnweb:

"Below is a list of the usual brainwashing/mind control techniques used in schools, hospitals, army, religious cults, totalitarian states; with political prisoners and dissidents, mentally insane, some versions of psychoterapy, etc., etc. "Indoctrination" is a more slight and more subliminal form of brainwashing (e.g. commercials). However, these concepts are nothing short of controversial and open to various interpretations.

1) HYPNOSIS - Inducing a high state of suggestibility, often thinly disguised as relaxation or meditation.

a. Repetitive Music (most likely with a beat close to the human heart 45 to 72 beats per minute). Most likely used during "study sessions" as the teacher will say the music helps you relax and concentrate better!

b. Voice Roll -- A "voice roll" is a patterned, paced style used by hypnotists when inducing a trance. It is also used by many lawyers, several of whom are highly trained hypnotists, when they desire to entrench a point firmly in the minds of the jurors. A voice roll can sound as if the speaker were talking to the beat of a metronome or it may sound as though he were emphasizing every word in a monotonous, patterned style. The words will usually be delivered at the rate of 45 to 60 beats per minute, maximizing the hypnotic effect.

c. Room "Feel" - The way a room feels is essential to hypnotizing unknowing subjects. It needs special lighting, florescent lights are best because they aren't too dim, but aren't too harsh. Also, Room Temp helps a bit, usually a little cooler than normal room temperature. You need to have the unknowing subjects very relaxed, perhaps even close to falling asleep.

2) PEER GROUP PRESSURE - Suppressing doubt and resistance to new ideas by exploiting the need to belong.

3) "LOVE BOMBING" - Creating a sense of family through physical touch, thought & feeling sharing and emotional bonding.

4) REJECTION OF OLD VALUES - Accelerating acceptance of new lifestyle by constantly denouncing former beliefs and values.

5) CONFUSING DOCTRINE - Encouraging blind acceptance and rejection of logic through complex lectures on an incomprehensible doctrine.

6) METACOMMUNICATION - Implanting subliminal messages by stressing certain key words or phrases in long, confusing lectures.

7) REMOVAL OF PRIVACY - Achieving loss of ability to evaluate logically by preventing private contemplation.

8) DISINHIBITION - Encouraging child-like obedience by orchestrating child-like behaviour

9) UNCOMPROMISING RULES - Inducing regression and disorientation by soliciting agreement to seemingly simple rules which regulate mealtimes, bathroom breaks and use of medications.

10) VERBAL ABUSE - Desensitizing through bombardment with foul and abusive language. (Physical abuse, such as torture, is the more extreme form of this.)

11) SLEEP DEPRIVATION AND FATIGUE - Creating disorientation and vulnerability by prolonging mental an physical activity and withholding adequate rest and sleep.

12) DRESS CODES - Removing individuality by demanding conformity to the group dress code.

13) CHANTING OR SINGING - Eliminating non-cult ideas through group repetition of mind-narrowing chants or phrases.

14) CONFESSION - Encouraging the destruction of individual ego through confession of personal weaknesses and innermost feelings of doubt.

15) FINANCIAL COMMITMENT - Achieving increased dependence on the group by 'burning bridges' to the past, through the donation of assets.

16) FINGER POINTING - Creating a false sense of righteousness by pointing to the shortcomings of the outside world.

17) ISOLATION - Inducing loss of reality by physical separation from family, friends, society and rational references.

18) CONTROLLED APPROVAL - Maintaining vulnerability and confusion by alternately rewarding and punishing similar actions.

19) CHANGE OF DIET - Creating disorientation and increased susceptibility to emotional arousal by depriving the nervous system of necessary nutrients through the use of special diets and/or fasting. Also applying drugs for these purposes fall in this category.

20) GAMES - Inducing dependence on the group by introducing games with obscure rules.

21) NO QUESTIONS - Accomplishing automatic acceptance of beliefs by discouraging questions.

22) GUILT - Reinforcing the need for 'salvation' by exaggerating the sins of the former lifestyles.

23) FEAR - Maintaining loyalty and obedience to the group by threatening soul, life or limb for the slightest 'negative' thought, word or deed.

Three Principles of Re-Education

1) REPETITION - Going through the same subject over and over again until it is known by heart.

2) ACTIVITY PEDAGOGICS - The subjects are never left alone nor give any private time of their own, they are always in activity.

3) CRITICISM AND SELF-CRITICISM - The subjects are supposed to feel uncertain; under the constant threat of being humiliated and despised."


I believe that the number one responsibility of a parent is to make sure one’s children survive to adulthood. A close second is the parent’s responsibility to prepare the child for adulthood (i.e., being able to take care of one’s self, and think for one’s self, so that one is not as vulnerable to those who would want to mislead and take advantage of you). These two responsibilities – protection and the nurturing of independence – do not have to be mutually exclusive, but sometimes they come in conflict. I think when children are young there will be a lot more direct intervention and shaping by the parent. Little children, if not given sufficient instruction and guidance are likely to behave in ways that could get them maimed or killed. As they grow, the parent can give the child more and more choices and foster expression of their individuality. The tough part of parenting is learning how to strike that balance and keep parenting age appropriate.

So, how do we avoid brainwashing our children? Perhaps it is unavoidable at least to some degree and perhaps not completely undesirable because most of us would like to instill some values in our kids. But, I also want my kids to think for themselves, so I have taken the list of brainwashing techniques and have made a new list of how to your children to think for themselves.

1) Discourage the passive acceptance of whatever messages the child is taught by teaching the child about how presentation methods manipulate the emotions and affect the likelihood of being receptive to the message. Commercials are a great teaching opportunity. You can discuss the role of the music, the announcer’s voice, the pleasing graphics, etc, plays in making the product more appealing and creating associations with pleasant feelings.

2) Reassure the child that they are still loved and belong even when they express doubt and resistance.

3) One must learn to foster independence by gradually cutting the apron strings and stopping the “hand holding”. Release the child so that they can learn to swim in the deep and ride their bike without your balancing it.

4) Encourage the objective evaluation by helping the child identify the good and bad of both sides on an issue or decision.

5) Encourage the use of logic by praising critical thinking.

6) Help child to identify both the direct message being conveyed by a speaker as well as any meta-messages also being conveyed. One might ask the child what the political ad said and then what other messages were being conveyed by what was left unsaid.

7) Encourage private contemplation. Set aside a little time each day, free of distractions, in which the child can reflect on the events of the day and what might he or she learn from them.

8) Teach child to be cautious of circumstances that decrease one’s ability to inhibit behavior, especially when there are others who might take advantage of us in that state.

9) Encourage child to question and challenge rules including your own. If you can’t defend your rules, then maybe they should not be rules. Child needs to be old enough to understand the advantage of social order in the classroom and the consequences of breaking laws.

10) Encourage the child not to tolerate verbal or physical abuse. Child needs to learn appropriate ways to stand up for her or himself and how to report abuses.

11) Help child understand the importance of getting enough sleep and exercise in helping maintain mental alertness and in decreasing vulnerability to suggestion.

12) Encourage individuality and also the value of striking a balance with conformity.

13) Encourage exposure to lots of different literature, philosophies, and religious ideas.

14) Help child develop personal boundaries and understand that it is best not to share their inner most feelings or weaknesses with people they hardly know.

15) Encourage financial independence, and a healthy skepticism of anyone wanting their money or trying to place them in a position in which they will be dependent on another.

16) Discourage judgmental attitudes.

17) Teach child to beware of those who would attempt to separate them from their support systems.

18) Help child learn to identify manipulation attempts, especially peer groups that withhold praise except for acts of conformity or obedience.

19) Teach child about how important nutrition is in helping keep one’s mind alert. Beware of drugs that loosen one’s control over one’s self.

20) Encourage child to really consider a situation before obeying.

21) Encourage child to question everything, especially authority.

22) Encourage child to be on the lookout for guilt-trips.

23) Teach child to beware of anyone who tries to instill fear in them.

A) When in a situation where repetition is unavoidable, encourage child to actively critique the message that is repeated.

B) Avoid over-scheduling the child.

C) Be consistent and respectful of the child.

Some things about Mormonism that many people do not know

Here are some things about Mormonism that many people do not know. Anyone who would like to learn more may use the valuable links on the thread: "Resources for those investigating all things LDS".

1) The Book of Abraham is not as Joseph Smith claimed - the writings of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus. In fact, the text contains anachronisms and much of the text appears to be borrowed from other authors whom Joseph confessed to be familiar with: Swedenborg, Book of Jasher, Josephus, Thomas Dick, etc.

2) Joseph Smith had 33 wives, at least one as young as 14, two were his own teenage foster daughters, and several were concurrently married to other men, and yes there is sufficient evidence (children and statements) that he had sex with many of them.

3) The text of the Book of Mormon was dictated by Joseph while burying his head in a hat with the very same peep stone he used while defrauding Josiah Stowell by claiming to be able to find buried treasure and accepting payment for those services.

4) Many of the doctrines and stories Joseph claimed were revealed to him from heaven were actually plagiarized from the writings of others that we have evidence he was familiar with: Swedenborg, the Book of Jasher, Josephus, Thomas Dick, Ethan Smith, etc.

5) Many supposedly eternal doctrines (aka unchanging truths) have been changed. For instance Brigham Young taught not only from the pulpit, but also arranged to be taught during the lecture at the veil that Adam is God the Father, the same one who sired Jesus Christ in Mary's womb, that Eve was just one of Adam's wives that he brought with him to start the human race on earth. Joseph Fielding Smith outright rejected that doctrine as false, but remember this had been taught quite clearly and unambiguously in the temple. Also the doctrine of blood atonement in which the only way to get forgiveness for certain sins is to have your life taken by church leaders who spill your blood on the ground was taught by Brigham, but is now denied.

6) The temple signs and tokens (and penalties) were lifted from the Masons. And the Masons and their signs date back to the 12th century AD not back to the building of the Jewish temples.

7) There is a history in the Church dating back to Joseph Smith in which the leaders have lied about their history and practices. Joseph "rewrites" his history several times embellishing accounts and changing the timing of things. The Church today slyly edits original quotes for its manuals to cover up the polygamy preached and practiced by its early leaders. But, worse than that, old Gordy Hinckley lied to police investigators about his involvement with Mark Hoffman and thus obstruction a murder investigation.

8) We have a lot of DNA evidence that shows that the Native Americans are not descended from Middle Eastern peoples. No archaeological support for BoM, despite what your institute teacher told you. The story of Thomas Ferguson might interest some of you as well as B.H. Roberts investigation into the Book of Mormon.

9) The Church has a nasty habit of excommunicating historians for telling the true history of the Church (i.e., September Six, etc). The Church has what is known as the Strengthening Church Members Committee whose job is to collect information on and writings of dissidents.

10) There are a handful of contradictory versions of Joseph's First Vision. None of these accounts were created until years after the supposed events would have taken place. In fact, all the early accounts always say that Joseph was called to the work by an angel, no one seemed to know anything about a "First Vision" in which Joseph saw God and Jesus. In fact, the idea that God and Jesus were two separate beings never occurred to anyone, not even Joseph, until sometime after the church was established. Joseph revised the first part of the Book of Mormon to make references to Jesus as the Son of the Living God as opposed to the "Living God". Joseph eventually abandoned his editing before he got to Abinidi's confusing speech.

There are many more issues, but the most important thing for any investigator is to look at the original sources for yourself. Don't trust the writings of critics or the church approved books without first consulting the original sources. The writings of the critics will cite their sources so that you will know where to look. Frankly, I find the writings of the critics to be more trustworthy than the writings approved by the Church.

Happy researching! The link at the top of this post has links for both critical and apologetic sites. We critics have no need to hide apologetic arguments, because when a person evaluates both sides, I think they will most often side with the critics. However, you will not receive such a fair and balanced approach from the church defenders. Often, they don't want you to read critical literature or at least will not link to it.

Mormon apologist claims there is no damning evidence against Mormonism

The poster Nogginus read on the MAD board where a famous apologist "declared something to the effect that they have never even once found even one shred of evidence that was damning to the Mormon church".

I used to be an amatuer apologist and knew almost all of the dirt on the church, but remained a true believer. I had found a way to explain all of the data in such a way that the Church could still be true. I firmly believed that none of the dirt I then knew about threatened the truthfulness of the Church. It would only weaken the testimony of those who never bother to think of those things in the way the apologist does. But, those things don't really weaken the claims of the Church. <- That is what I believed.

You see, the apologist plays in the realm of what is possible, not what is objectively probable. It is technically possible that the reasons the First Vision accounts differ so much is because each time the story was retold, Joseph simply focused on different aspects of the Vision. You can't say that that is not possible, because it is possible and if you look at the differing accounts with the assumption that the Church is true, then the differing accounts does not prove that it is not true. This can be repeated for every issue out there.

It is only after one starts to consider that the Church might not be true and look at the preponderence of the evidence and focus on what is likely to be the truth as opposed to what might be true, that is when it begins to look so obvious that the Church is a fraud.

I would have stayed forever in the apologist state if it were not for the Book of Abraham. If the Church has an Achilles Hill (aka a fatal weakness), it is the Book of Abraham. Many apologists have tried and many congratulate themselves on putting forward possibilities that they believe save the reputation of Joseph Smith in regards to the BoA, but upon closer examination of the evidence, they all fall and cannot work even as possibilities, except two theories. All the other theories from Nibley's "the scribes did it", to it is still a true revelation from God even if it isn't a translation, etc, cannot work.

The two possibilities that a TBM can take and still remain true to the evidence are these: 1) the pious fraud theory, which states that Joseph knowingly created a fraud, but did it to bring people closer to Christ. The Mormonism that one must believe in if one accepts this theory is that Christ is real and Joseph created a unique way to teach about Christ by reappropriating things from his environment (Masonry, egyptian papyri, Native American legends, etc).

2) The Blake Ostler Expansion Thesis - that Joseph truly, mistakenly believed he was translating Abraham's scrolls. The resulting work was mostly the product of Joseph's own mistaken ideas and beliefs, but mingled in there are profound truths revealed to the mind of Joseph directly from God. Revelation is not downloaded directly from heaven, but passes through the prophet medium. The resulting scripture contains a lot of false add-ons by the prophet, but the prophet believes it all comes from God. The prophet believes he is receiving pure intelligence, but is mistaken. The Mormonism that results from that belief is a mixture of a lot of false ideas with some true, profound divine revelations. Proporters of this theory believe that the prophet is never wrong about the big things, but will often be wrong about the unimportant little things.

I can't accept either view. I don't believe DP accepts either view, instead I think he tentatively favors some of the other apologist theories, subconciously focuses on the seemingly miraculous parallels with ancient traditions about Abraham, and prefers a wait and see approach while "scholars" focus on minutiae such as whether the Kirtland Egyptian Papers read more like translation or revelation notes or later attempts to match the text with the characters.

Atheists put less value on love than believers: study

"A new Canadian survey has found that believers are more likely than atheists to place a higher value on love, patience and friendship, in findings the researcher says could be a warning that Canadians need a religious basis to retain civility in society.

The survey of 1,600 Canadian adults, led by University of Lethbridge professor Reginald Bibby, gave a list of 12 values - from honesty to family life to politeness to generosity - and asked the participants if they found each "very important." In each case, theists ranked the values as more important than atheists."


I don't have a problem with the data. I have a problem with the interpretation of the data. Further research is required to determine which of the competing explanations of the current data set best fit future data.

I tend to prefer this explanation that was given at the end of the article, but only further research will tell us if this explanation accurately describes why this study got the results they did:

"Religion tends to be very polarizing, so religious people always feel very passionately about those values. They always feel 'very strongly.' Religion always does this black-and-white thing. An atheist is a lot more temperate, a bit more hesitant. An atheist might be more nuanced in his or her thinking."

A poster named Phoenix put forward another possible explanation:

"If you asked various groups how much they value the family, the mormon numbers would be through the roof. That just means it's a catch phrase in their religion, not that they actually value the family more than others and certainly not that they practice it more."

My response to the Prime-Mover and First-Cause arguments

Thomas Aquinas put forward five arguments for the existence of god. Here are my responses to the first two:

1) "The Prime Mover" -why does god get to be an exception? If you truly believe that everything that moves was first moved by something else, then who moved god? Why does he get to be a special situation? It is as arbitrary as if we declared that the Big Bang is the Prime Mover, that was not moved itself. You will no doubt object to that as I object to arbitrtarily claiming that there is this special being that has the ability to not have been moved itself. Where is the proof that such a being exists? The original problem remains for both of us, meaning that we don't know how things played out in the distant past, but Thomas's "solution" only gives the illusion that he has solved the problem, it is not a solution at all, for he has to explain how it is that he can have a prime mover that violates his basic argument that everything that moves has to have something that put it in motion. There is no good reason to make an exception to that rule and call it god.

2) "The First Cause" - see above, as my refutation is the same except first cause would be substituted for prime mover. Who caused god? If you claim no one did, how can you justify making an exception, when there is no independent way to verify that such a non-natural being exists.

More fundamentally, why can we not have an infinite past? Why cannot motion be the status quo? Then we don't have to explain where it came from because it just always has been. See the thing is we only have to explain the first movement if things were originally static and motionless and then things started to move. But, if movement has always been, then it needs no explanation.

"Beginning" is just a frame of mind and is always relative to something. As difficult as it is to imagine, there does not have to be a beginning of all beginnings. If you disagree, prove why there must be a beginning. You will not be able to do it (Aquinas's arguments based on assumptions do not do it). If you can believe in an eteranl god, you can believe in an eternal cosmos (including what came before the Big Bang). If you can believe in a beginningless god, you can believe in a beginningless cosmos. We have never observed a beginning (an ultimate beginning - a beginning that comes from nowhere), why do we assume that such a real beginning even exists at all?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Atheist Blogroll

You may have noticed that I have added the Atheist Blogroll along the sideline on the right of this page. If you are atheist or agnostic and have a blog, you might consider adding your blog to the Atheist Blogroll. It is an excellent way to increase readership.

To learn how to join, go here.