The Philosophy of South Park

Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, Team America and The Book of Mormon, have often been lionised by the 'New Atheist' movement for their lambasting of aspects of Scientology, Mormonism, Christianity, Islam, alien abduction theories and other beliefs. But their personal views have a little more subtlety than most people would probably assume, given the tone of their various productions, and their disdain is not so much for religion on its own but for unthinking belief and forceful proselytising. In a recent interview with Esquire, Stone and Parker took time to criticise Richard Dawkins and his minions, and many of the South Park duo's thoughts on beliefs - and in particular, the need for story-telling and rituals - resonated pretty strongly with me. Some highlights from the interview:

[T]he truth is that Parker and Stone, the creators of the decade's most extreme mass entertainment, are shockingly ... temperate. They say it themselves: "There is a middle ground, and most of us actually live in this middle ground." Consider the short film that launched South Park — The Spirit of Christmas.

On one side, Jesus demanded that Christmas be about remembering His birthday. Santa shouted that Christmas was about giving. They kung-fu-battled until they were rolling on the ground, strangling each other.

"The boys were in the middle saying, 'This is f**ked up,' " said Parker. "Any side who thinks they're totally right is f**ked up. That's the heart of every show."

...Religion has its upsides — a position that rankles hardcore atheists such as Richard Dawkins.

"He's such a dick," said Stone. "You read his book and you're like, 'Yeah, I agree with that. But it's the most dicky way to put it... I think the neoatheists have set atheism back a few decades. And I'm a self-described atheist."

...You could argue that their so-called moderation is actually just nihilism. They take potshots at both sides without ever committing to any direction of their own. And there's some truth to that. So what do they believe in? The central thesis of The Book of Mormon is that storytelling, myths, and fiction are the only things that can save us.

..."I'm concerned about people being happy," said Stone. "With religion I was always like, Does it matter if it's true if it makes you happy?"

"As storytellers for fifteen years, we started looking at religions for their stories," Parker said..."[T]here's something about dressing up and playing the part. To me, that's religion. You can write down how to make the perfect cup of coffee. But to make it really good, you have to play something fictional, you have to dress up, you have to think, This is the most important thing."

You can also listen to Stone and Parker explaining their feelings about Richard Dawkins and 'whiny' atheism in this audio interview from earlier in the year (warning: plenty of NSFW language):

By the way, at the end of the interview they mention that they'd love to see a book on atheism by Penn Jillette. Turns out they got their wish.

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daydreamer's picture
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I think the world would be much better of and show a much higher degree of maturity if its institutions could be happy just saying 'hay, it doesn't matter if it's true or not - just if it makes you happy'.

Then we could accept that we are on a hedonistic mission and just get on with, you know, trying to be happy.

I honestly doubt for a second that if I created a philosophy based around a fiction, that I accepted was a fiction, with the goal of creating happiness that I would draw the irk of Dawkins et al. After all thats what the arts do, it's what I did when I looked forward to the next Ring's film for all that time, and how stoked I was in the period leading up to Skyrim and how I am right now living in it's fantasy.

No one has a problem with any institution saying people can gain happiness from fantasy - we really can. But if the same institution starts saying it's fantasy is reality it's somehow ok to defend it on the basis that many people know it is fantasy really and the happiness derived really isn't that dependant on whether it's true or not anyway - no matter the actual message from the institution. After all, what we are talking about then is cultural Christianity or cultural Judaism/Islam or whatever, something that draws little irk from atheists - and why should it, I am a cultural Christian in the sense that my life features its greater points while I also accept it as fantasy and end up drawing happiness from those aspects of its substrate that I find appealing and which fit into my personal cultural Christian background. I can even find happiness in the fantasy of Jesus in the same sense as the stories of Greek Gods or Roman, expect that if I ever refer to it as that I get told off. Or am I supposed to not believe and go to Church to be a cultural Christian, I forget the rules.

I don't know. It seems pretty harmless when it's your grandmother offering to cast spells to help you home, but sometime's its really messed up. Individually its possible to find examples of it at its best, though we also get pleasure and meaning from thing like Skyrim, or rock music, books, or the wait for Mass Effect 3. Though the Churches would likely demean the pleasure from those as being of less 'meaning' than theirs. Hedonism is a good argument - solid, and at it's core maybe thats what is going on here, but lets not forget that religion actually promotes itself in such a way as to typically demean hedonism. Personally though I don't and the rest to me is more like politics and so fit for argument, but preferably better than 'you might not like capitalism/socialism/communism/dictatorships/whatever, but they make some people happy' - or at least most of us don't use that argument when we talk about politics with our friends of different political persuasions. (personally I suspect its the taboo thing again).

red pill junkie's picture
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This reminds me of a comment I made at Radio Misterioso re. the show Greg had with the authors of "Who wrote The Book of Mormon?". The book tries to show that Joseph Smith & co. plagiarized a novel written by Solomon Spalding, but (oddly enough) the authors made it very clear that their goal was not to destroy Mormonism as a religion, which still sounds like something of a contradiction to me —imagine if you could convince a devout Catholic that Jesus died and didn't resurrect; that person might still find a lot of good moral teachings in the Gospels... but then Christianity stops being a religion! which might not be such a bad thing after all.

So, would it be possible for a completely fictitious religion —meaning, a religion in which the practitioners are AWARE of its fictitious origin— to pass the test of time and endure for many generations? Although there are movements like the Church of the Force centered around the Star Wars mythology, and probably many of its practitioners are just expressing their deep fascination with the movies, its possible that a few of them are convinced of the real nature of The Force; will future generations regard Lucas as a prophet rather than a visionary?

What's true is that religions nowadays DO take issue with the fictional appetites of their followers. Case in point: the many warnings issued by the Pope to parents that allow their children to read the Harry Potter books; I'm sure that even if the series was not based on supernatural themes the Church quickly categorize as "demonic", they would still be suspicious (or jealous) of the devotion displayed by J K Rowling's young readers.

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daydreamer's picture
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I wonder whether part of the issue is educational.

Religion teaches people that it is important because it is real then goes further to declare itself the ultimate reality - even to the point of actively attempting to decrease the outcome of studying reality. (whatever that may be at the time - admittedly).

So there's mental conditioning going on from an early age. Thinking about it I suspect that people's problem with uncertainty, such as the root of the argument that we don't know everything and the related 'science keeps changing' are probably seated in this conditioning.

We obviously do not know everything, and philosophically cannot claim to know anything - even if it works with amazing accuracy. The openness and honesty of this reality is in stark contrast with theological claims, which lets face it are based around trust rather than understanding. Everything in Christianity, for example, becomes void if God changes it's mind so we are left to trust that it won't - and that is even if Christianity is accurate, a state it's experts cannot illuminate in any other way than asking us to just trust them.

So back to your point. Can a religion survive if it is not underpinned by what looks to me like the brains preference for labelling something a 'reality' as opposed to 'fiction'. An important question at this point might be why it does it at all? Does it do it? Many people are happy trying to live life with happiness as a goal rather than reality - myself included since science and philosophy tell us we can never know with a religious certainty. (Obviously I still think education and debating around the evidence are very important centres for the increase of physical welfare, and hence very important to psychological welfare).

If the brain doesn't do it. If we are conditioned to think like this from an early age then is happiness also conditioned? I think there are very strong reasons to think not. I think happiness is a biological fundamental in a way that understanding is not. I suspect this because of how inter-related it is with other body systems, especially though the mechanism we call 'stress', which transfers its affects all over the body and because it is a physiological condition affected by drugs and observable in brain physiology and state.

This gives me hope that putting the mental conditioning of assuredness and safety in ultimate realities aside and concentrating on happiness alone might provide real gains, though this would be a philosophy very akin to hedonism.

Anyway - you have me rambling around my mind again.

In short my thoughts are: Religions teach absoluteness and are unlikely to unpin themselves from the claim of ultimate reality. We see this effect on people in their narrative of their position between understanding and themselves and especially between understanding and their religion. An honest appraisal means we are uncertain of their claims in the same way as we are everything else plus they cannot all be right and so hedonism is a higher goal/motive of religion than religion cares to admit especially given the modern anti-hedonistic rhetoric of forces like the Vatican (though it is a hedonism with different features, something we might call a mental hedonism, perhaps built by also controlling aspects of fear, as opposed to physical hedonisms - though to be honest it still portrays its own hedonism as being vastly more important than say going bowling or playing games).

Perhaps a major part of the pomposity (and hence advertising, sale and importance as a brand to people) is underpinned by the claim of reality and that is why, as a philosophy, it is unlikely to ever be released.

Meanwhile i'm sure it will continue to express disdain at the 'mere' search and experience of happiness and pleasure.

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But if happiness is a more sensible goal to our well-being than reality, then why is it wrong to have religions, if it helps some folks feel happy?

Like you said, Science tells us that we can't be 100% certain about anything, so religion provides a cushion of comfort that there's someone or something out there backing us. It might be a delusion of course, but it's a delusion that keeps the stress at a tolerable level. That's the thing Dawkins doesn't seem to get.

Meanwhile, you are correct in stating that religions have always demanded an absolutist POV. But the way I see it, most folks have always addressed religion in a relativistic manner. Not many of them are worried about subscribing with 100% of the tenants of their particular religion, just a few bunch of obsessed dudes; who of course would be disgusted about this very relativistic approach.

But here's the thing: as soon as the vocal opposition of these obsessed gets too in the way of what people recognize they need in order to reach happiness, they will be dismissed and forgotten. Catholics have tried to curtail the natural urges of humans toward sexuality, and that's why they are going the way of the Dodo, because people are not that stupid, & realize God didn't install this plumbing just for the looks, ya know! :P

But maybe that's the Devil in me speaking ;)

Re. the problem of 'trust', nowadays faith has become something of a dirty word, but most religious people would tell you that the more doubts a person has, the more faith they show. Skeptics would dismiss it as psychotic behavior, but I for one am not ready to throw the benefit of faith just yet.

Who knows, maybe people should address the religious/transcendent problem like Castañeda's 'controlled follies', with the conviction that as humans there are things that will always escape our comprehension, and that religions by definition are incomplete because they were designed/established by humans and for humans; but if putting faith in the transcendent raises your spirits so you can cope with the problems of reality --without blinding you or skewing your vision-- then religion is something worth preserving.

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It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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daydreamer's picture
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I've been mulling this over for days now. I think it's time to write something.

Clearly I cannot make my mind up. Much of what you say falls within the bracket of being obviously correct. I think my trouble is in drawing distinctions and lines. There are obviously grey areas and distinctions in both individual and societies interactions with stories that make us happy - in terms of the politics of that society, it's laws, interactions with reality and both welfare and potential for welfare (i.e how people are treated in hospital and how likely it is that conditions will be treated in hospitals in 10 years). This spreads through all sectors of the society, especially where our interactions with the planet and it's resources (plus our efficiencies) affect future prospects and modern prospects.

Perhaps it's relating all this in a single blog post, but I think just drawing the lines between all the different beliefs and where they do, and do not, complement, add to, and preserve, welfare and happiness is where it's all at.

I guess there is also a difference between looking at best case exmaples, average examples (per country/region) and worst examples (plus frequency of best and worst examples per country/region).

Any decent attempt to draw a picture of how belief interacts with happiness needs to tie all this together before we can make large sweeping statements about value on different scales (individual/institution/region/country/planet). Colour coding this would probably (certainly?!) end up looking much like a gravity survey with groupings of positive and negative of different intensities.

Does this mean we can/cannot say anything on the subject? I think perhaps it's better to look at individual parts and then let people make up their own minds. So maybe its simply better to argue for better education, teaching multiple belief systems alongside better science seems reasonable to me and teaching better philosophy as well. Surely the one thing we know is that if you allow people to isolate children from other perspectives that you will stand a good chance of controlling them. A lecture I listened to recently described how the religious right in the states has instrumented a system of home schooling, Christian colleges and Christian universities with the express goal of streamlining children right the way through education and into politics (with the goal of the universities to produce the next generation of right wing Christian politicians). In a global superpower thats got to worry us all.

Quote:

but if putting faith in the transcendent raises your spirits so you can cope with the problems of reality --without blinding you or skewing your vision

I agree with this. Funnily enough because it's exactly my sort of faith/non-faith. However, that notion of not blinding or skewing your vision is important, and woefully missed today - it might all be fine if the larger institutions would stop telling people to behave badly with regard to what we understand about the world (and there is still a moral question about presenting theology as fact to children where it is countered by evidence, adam and eve, noahs flood etc and at the same time hiding children from the evidence. To me that's cowardice, not adult). Actually, what's the difference between faith and non-faith in a person with regards to happiness and outcome? I really wonder if optimism and pessimism are what really mark a difference in perspective, karma, and outcome. To be honest I've yet to see the big difference in happiness between people of faith and people of non-faith, just seems like a philosophical rather than practical difference to me. Whereas you can see differences between optimists and pessimists.

Where does all this leave us? Buggered if I know.

red pill junkie's picture
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A lecture I listened to recently described how the religious right in the states has instrumented a system of home schooling, Christian colleges and Christian universities with the express goal of streamlining children right the way through education and into politics (with the goal of the universities to produce the next generation of right wing Christian politicians). In a global superpower thats got to worry us all.

Just so you know, I studied in Catholic schools all my life.

I'm the perfect example of how plans can seriously backfire >:)

To be honest I've yet to see the big difference in happiness between people of faith and people of non-faith, just seems like a philosophical rather than practical difference to me. Whereas you can see differences between optimists and pessimists.

I admit I don't have an answer for this. Also, as a natural pessimist, I'm somewhat skeptic of 'glass-half-full' folks. I read some day this quote Baronness Susan Greenfield made for a magazine interview: "Happy people don't build civilizations."

But I also remember that scene from Scorsese's The Aviator, where DiCaprio shows how a perfectionist never gets to enjoy the fruits of his work.

See video

So what's the right balance? Buggered if I know too :-/

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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daydreamer's picture
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Quote:

Also, as a natural pessimist, I'm somewhat skeptic of 'glass-half-full' folks.

That made me laugh :) - actually, it's still making me laugh.

Quote:

I'm the perfect example of how plans can seriously backfire >:)

This is another thing that i'm sort of happy about. The correlation seems to be with what parents tell children and how children are raised prior to early teens, rather than with school type. The school type seems more of a way to attempt to disconnect the child from the world and shepherd them through. Today this seems nearly impossible and the religious school seems unable to adapt to this reality. Though I can well imagine it being much more successful in areas where the culture and media are more controllable, such as parts of Africa etc.

In the UK there is no separation of Church and State in the sense that they have it in the US and parts of Europe. Our head of state remains the head of the church for example and this still plays out in our schools. So daily prayer and an act of worship is still mandated in state schools, though ignored by some it is still practised by many. So my 5 year old is encountering it all and being taught what amounts to a sort of watered down Christian theology. Now i'm sort of fine with this. Its awkward because it's a case of the school can do what it wants, but if I tell him what I think i'm oppressing him, but kids are astute and even at 5 he asks enough big questions to stump most adults I know so he's doing fine. The only thing i'm going to teach him is to never stop asking questions and to always ask 'how do they know that?', which will stand him in good stead with respect to our political leaders as much as our church ones.

Streamlining kids through home schooling to higher education only concerns me/interests me because its a case of only having to achieve the indoctrination with a certain percentage. Enough weight and it can start to affect things in the direction you want. You don't need everyone, especially if your aim is to just quietly get people into the few positions of power in politics and the judiciary. The aim needn't be overt, but instead just to get people into those positions that matter and then subvert in the direction you want to take society. In fact, if you are running a type of expansive cult then you wouldn't want anyone to be overt, since that could endanger their rise. Intelligent planning and cunning are required. We needn't even talk about conspiracy since the whole thing is quite developed, open and is having the affects ministers in the upper echelons want it to, hence why even members of the Republican party are going on the record saying how bonkers its is becoming.

Whether LSD actually allows astral planing I have no idea, but sometimes I can see the attraction of being on something ;)

red pill junkie's picture
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The only thing i'm going to teach him is to never stop asking questions and to always ask 'how do they know that?', which will stand him in good stead with respect to our political leaders as much as our church ones.

Be prepared to attend many meetings with his teachers ;)

The movie Dead Poet's Society had a big effect on me, though I got to see it by the time I was leaving the 'standard' school system. I wonder what would have happened if I'd seen it earlier. At any rate, the reason I didn't achieve a perfect 100 score in my high-school grades was partly due to my problems with authority.

So that's the paradox: you'll also have to teach him a bit of hypocrisy, because open defiance to dogma and institutionalized knowledge can hinder one's chances of 'success'.

The aim needn't be overt, but instead just to get people into those positions that matter and then subvert in the direction you want to take society.

We couldn't say Scientologists are having a lot of success in that area. They have plenty of powerful people on their side, but only in the entertainment business. No Scientologist congressmen or senators yet.

Then again, I don't really think Scientologists care too much about shaping the course of society —they are only after the money :P

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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daydreamer's picture
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Money and slaves apparently -

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-...

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In a strange twist, I was literally thinking about South Park as I was surfing over to TDG.

I've said a few times before to people that "The Philosophy of South Park" (along with the philosophies of rock group TOOL, and their influences) is as accurate of a way to describe my thoughts and feelings on the world as any other philosophy. There is something so brilliant about showing how we as people get so bent out of shape and blinded and misguided, and it takes the mind of an 8 year old to see it for how F'ed up it all really is.... plus, at the end of the day, SP is just plain hilarious. I dig how they can make jabs at all sides of any issue. If you've taken a stance, prepare to be offended.

There have been arguments made to me that South Park is "just poop jokes", to which I respond, if you think its just poop jokes, you either have never actually watched the show, or it is WAY over your head. Plus... "You don't have to be smart to think farts are funny, but you have to be an idiot to think they're not."

"I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative." - Bill Hicks

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Why do folks have a nerdgasm over Penn Jillette? He's a high-school graduate and his schtick is about as nuanced as the average 9-year-old. In other words "he's not saying ANYthing"

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I'm not a fan. I find him to be an extreme boor, to be honest. It may be an act for the cameras and ratings, but I'm not convinced. His modus operandi (like all New Atheists) is to ridicule & belittle the person, rather than maturely debate their point of view. Skepticism/atheism for some people is just an excuse to be an asshole. Unfortunately, shows like Bullsh*t rate well.

~ * ~

@levitatingcat

red pill junkie's picture
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Seems that another important aspect of the South Park philosophy is to include 'alien Easter eggs' in every episode :)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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This was the article upon which I had intended to comment initially, upon my recent return to TDG. I cannot now recall why I then failed to do so, but that is neither here nor there. :)

I agree with the Parker-Stone perspective, in effect if not in formulation. The über-atheist and the ultra-religious often have more in common than either would like to admit: they seem to only see their belief from their own perspective, without taking into account the perspective of others. They each insist that their way is the One and Only sensible way, the One Right Way, and that Any Other Way is Necessarily False. Too, they tend to dismiss all opposing views with a broad sweep, as if Atheism were identical to Satanism, as if Mormonism were identical to Islam.

In this sense, I disagree with the oft-posed question "How can they (religions) all be right if each claims that it is the only right one?" This sort of ironclad dualism seems to ignore the many shades of grey, while trampling the unique perspective of individuals. If the result of these varied beliefs is the same -- viz., if people are happy and go about their lives as productive members of society, then who is anyone to claim that their way is not right for them? Until a critic has walked a mile in my shoes, I daresay they have no ground upon which to make such deignful claims as Your Religion is wrong because Science Cannot Prove It or Your lack of belief in God is wrong because the Bible Says So.

Religion and Science are not necessarily incompatible, but many seem to think that each is designed to address the other. From my perspective, Science and Religion are more than just complementary, they overlay and strengthen one another. In a sense, it may be fitting to describe them as Space and Time. Each an axis on the same plane, God the matrix, and I both an observer and a participant.

For the record, I view the glass as neither half-full NOR half-empty; it is clearly entirely full, of liquid and gaseous atmosphere, while recognizing that even when full, there are still miniscule spaces between the molecules comprising it, and more spaces between the atomic nuclei and their electrons encircling them; moreover, the glass is not static, not even solid, and that there are processes at work, such as condensation and evaporation, which further influence the exact proportions of fullness/emptiness. :-)

Also, check out Cannibal! the Musical, one of Parker/Stone's finer works.

Much Love

red pill junkie's picture
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For the record, I view the glass as neither half-full NOR half-empty; it is clearly entirely full, of liquid and gaseous atmosphere, while recognizing that even when full, there are still miniscule spaces between the molecules comprising it, and more spaces between the atomic nuclei and their electrons encircling them; moreover, the glass is not static, not even solid, and that there are processes at work, such as condensation and evaporation, which further influence the exact proportions of fullness/emptiness. :-)

Now that is the best answer to the glass metaphor I've ever read :-D

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

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MintyGiant wrote:

For the record, I view the glass as neither half-full NOR half-empty; it is clearly entirely full, of liquid and gaseous atmosphere, while recognizing that even when full, there are still miniscule spaces between the molecules comprising it, and more spaces between the atomic nuclei and their electrons encircling them; moreover, the glass is not static, not even solid, and that there are processes at work, such as condensation and evaporation, which further influence the exact proportions of fullness/emptiness. :-)

Dr. Sheldon Cooper would have been proud to have said that :)

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Hay up Dave. Just thought I'd say hi without writing a diatribe. Hope alls well.

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Hi to you too DD.

I wandered over to the Skeptiko forum and registered, posted a few thoughts and then found it an uncomfortable place to be. I quickly started to wonder why anyone there (perhaps anywhere) bothers to discuss subjects such as atheism, materialism or spirituality. Everyone seems be be holding fast to their already cemented-in-place worldviews and no amount of debate is going to change anyone's mind.

It kind of confirms what I've said here before - that only some kind of life changing experience will change one's preconceptions. An experience such as the one described by Dr. Eben Alexander in the interview now available as a podcast on Skeptiko. I didn't listen to it all yet but he starts by explaining how, as a neurosurgeon, he never imagined he would question the brain equals mind orthodoxy. Then he had an NDE.

By the way, the episode where Alex is grilled by three sceptics on their podcast is worth a listen too - just to observe how the dynamics play out and how it confirms my point here.

Sorry, almost wandered off into another diatribe of my own there. So anyhow - yes, all is well and I hope the same can be said for you and yours.

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Yep all good.

I'm at work at the moment, which puts me in the hills and fields for a few weeks, so I'm away from my family. Hoping to be back for Christmas, but I'm not sure yet. Other than that all's well.

I'll have a listen to the Skeptico podcast.

I agree with you about people being in camps, but I'm not such a hard liner about that being a problem with science itself - or at least I hope it will not be. The problem isn't that there are camps of scientists who do not believe it is that there are few who do and that they struggle to get research funding. They nay-sayers are still absolutely necessary for the process as they are in all aspects of science. It made no difference to plate tectonics that 99.999% of geologists once thought it was nonsense. It took it a while admittedly but over the course of a few decades (sealed finally over a century later) now 99.9999999999% of geologists accept there is no other explanation that can account for the data. The important thing here is that the no camp plays a very important role in pulling ideas apart of strengthening them. It makes the yes camp put in the effort and up their game. So it doesn't worry me at all that the vast majority of physicists don't believe neutrinos are going faster than the speed of light. The no groups around the world are making the yes group test and re-test and improve every aspect of their experiment until all possible sources of error are removed and then it will start to swing people. I think that's how it should be.

As for NDE's they're great stuff. Obviously I have no idea what is actually going on and I haven't had one myself (closest ive been to death is spinning in a car across a field at 70mph, which was scary, but didn't put me near death - thank Ford for building a pants looking car but with a good chassis). My skeptical side jumps on interpreatations that lack little support and are typically relativistic and culturally focused. It is interesting that your observation that we are 'camp' focused seems observable in NDE data as well. Christians will have Christian focused NDE's, athiests zoom out into space and see lights, Muslims meet Allah etc. Prior expectations, beliefs, paradigms - whatever we call them - seem to affect the experience, which I think is pretty cool.

I didn't know until now that the affect of low oxygen on creation of NDE like experiences was first observed in fighter pilots during that high-g spinny training.

Dr. Eben Alexander talks using theological language and metaphor typical of western Christian cultures, which again is interesting. A part of me just can't help wondering what happened to his brain when in a coma. Actually that makes me wonder whether personality changes are seen after coma in the same way as they are sometimes seen after stroke. On a recent skeptical podcast the crew read out a headline that caught their interest about changes of sexual identity following strokes and then read the medical evidence (pub med searches etc). Often it's a case of zero reliable evidence or worse, the real evidence is against the media headline. However in this case there are quite a few case studies of the phenomena - though obviously deeper understanding is lacking since deeper understanding of the causes of sexuality are lacking. It's interesting what can happen if you affect the brain though, and given the ability to provoke religious feelings using electrostimulation of the brain (I looked for the references, but if you type electro stimulation and religious feelings into google it comes back with porn that I don't fancy looking at right now). So i'd be interested in looking at this backwards as well. A sudden profound change in belief might result in the same way as a sudden profound change in personality following brain trauma. Although I suppose we might theologise that away by saying another persons soul got in while the other was on vacation!!!

No matter what the answer is though, it's all interesting stuff and there's plenty of research into it at the moment.

kamarling's picture
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daydreamer wrote:

It is interesting that your observation that we are 'camp' focused seems observable in NDE data as well. Christians will have Christian focused NDE's, athiests zoom out into space and see lights, Muslims meet Allah etc. Prior expectations, beliefs, paradigms - whatever we call them - seem to affect the experience, which I think is pretty cool.

I'm not surprised about this at all (the NDE experiences) ... I think reality in general is a lot more subjective than we suspect.

daydreamer wrote:

I didn't know until now that the affect of low oxygen on creation of NDE like experiences was first observed in fighter pilots during that high-g spinny training.

I think Susan Blackmore used the trainee pilots anoxia data in her argument that NDE's can be explained away by mundane brain chemistry. Chris Carter devotes a lot of space to Blackmore in his NDE book going through her arguments point by point.

daydreamer's picture
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I don't know whether you could prove NDE's are low oxygen experiences playing havok on the brain as opposed to low oxygen in the brain is part of the start mechanism for release of the soul etc.

My main dissapointment with the defence of NDE's that I have seen so far is that it tends to rely on a 'they are really cool' argument. I.e. that they are meaningful and a 'full' experience, or even of a higher more meaningful experience than normal so cannot possibly be the brain under stress conditions. I don't see that we know enough to say that - though just in terms of the technicalities of the claim as a defence, obviously the criticisms are lacking in the same way.

At the moment I'll just go so far as it being interesting that we can stimulate experiences similar to NDE and leave whatever that means to further research.

Quote:

I think reality in general is a lot more subjective than we suspect.

I've got an experiment I'd love to do/see done. Objects, items, experiences and events would be seen/experienced by a random group of people and their differences and similarities noted. This provides a baseline for subjective experience of 'material' entities and events - be they a bus at a sub stop, a picture of Mount Everest, the experience of being cold, seeing a Rhino, walking up a hill etc - a whole batch designed to capture subjective experience over a wide range of phenomena.

I would then map and chart the various claims across religions/spiritual philosophies, new age philosophies etc and compare this against my standardised human descriptive subjectivity.

My aim here would be to see just how broad a range of descriptions of the same events and objects we should actually expect when people describe things. Descriptions in otherworldly experiences are subjective, but descriptions of rhinos and mountains are subjective as well. However I suspect that a rough grey area will be crossed between shared events and non-shared events. I would love to see data on it, just to try to peer through the subjective veil - after all everything is subjectively experienced. I think i'd be trying to see if there were commonalities between the range of subjective descriptions of non-subjective phenomena and of the claim that people are subjectively experiencing a subjective phenomena - if I'm describing that in a way that makes sense.