Longer life, peace of mind with religion
By Misty Harris, Canwest News ServiceJuly 3, 2010
With apologies to Karl Marx, it seems religion is the Xanax of the masses.
A new Canadian study finds belief in God works much like an anti-anxiety drug, creating a buffer against defensive or distressed reactions to the mistakes we make. Building on previous research that demonstrated an association between religion and palliative brain activity, scientists say they're now able to show that one actually causes the other.
The study, to be published in the respected journal Psychological Science, provides a clue to why religious people tend to lead longer lives and enjoy better physical and mental health.
When people learn of errors they've made, the brain sets off what study co-author Michael Inzlicht calls a "cortical alarm bell." While this alert can be helpful in terms of self-correction, too much vigilance can lead to a frazzled state of mind.
Religion, and its accompanying sense of order, provide insulation against such distress.
"These brain signals occur within a few hundredths of a second," says Inzlicht, associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough. "Although that sounds trivial, (dampened alerts) over the course of a lifetime can translate into years in which a person enjoys greater equanimity and greater grace under pressure."
Alongside Alexa M. Tullett, Inzlicht conducted experiments in which people performed mental tasks while their brain activity was monitored using electroencephalography. Researchers watched specifically for changes in error-related negativity, which arises from the anterior cingulate cortex and is associated with defensive reactions to mistakes.
Among those participants with a strong belief in an active, involved God, being primed to think of religion before completing the tasks resulted in the cortical alarm bells being muffled, with error-related negativity decreasing. Among nonbelievers, however, error-related negativity was amplified in response to self-error.
"Religion seems to act as a palliative for believers. It buffers them against the pains of everyday living, it offers meaning, and it structures their understanding of the world," says Inzlicht.
There are interesting comments in the blog as well...
September 5, 2010, 5:30 pm
Mystery and Evidence
By TIM CRANE
There is a story about Bertrand Russell giving a public lecture somewhere or other, defending his atheism. A furious woman stood up at the end of the lecture and asked: “And Lord Russell, what will you say when you stand in front of the throne of God on judgment day?” Russell replied: “I will say: ‘I’m terribly sorry, but you didn’t give us enough evidence.’ ”
This is a very natural way for atheists to react to religious claims: to ask for evidence, and reject these claims in the absence of it. Many of the several hundred comments that followed two earlier Stone posts “Philosophy and Faith” and “On Dawkins’s Atheism: A Response,” both by Gary Gutting, took this stance. Certainly this is the way that today’s “new atheists” tend to approach religion. According to their view, religions — by this they mean basically Christianity, Judaism and Islam and I will follow them in this — are largely in the business of making claims about the universe that are a bit like scientific hypotheses. In other words, they are claims — like the claim that God created the world — that are supported by evidence, that are proved by arguments and tested against our experience of the world. And against the evidence, these hypotheses do not seem to fare well.
But is this the right way to think about religion? Here I want to suggest that it is not, and to try and locate what seem to me some significant differences between science and religion.
To begin with, scientific explanation is a very specific and technical kind of knowledge. It requires patience, pedantry, a narrowing of focus and (in the case of the most profound scientific theories) considerable mathematical knowledge and ability. No-one can understand quantum theory — by any account, the most successful physical theory there has ever been — unless they grasp the underlying mathematics. Anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves.
Religious belief is a very different kind of thing. It is not restricted only to those with a certain education or knowledge, it does not require years of training, it is not specialized and it is not technical. (I’m talking here about the content of what people who regularly attend church, mosque or synagogue take themselves to be thinking; I’m not talking about how theologians interpret this content.)
What is more, while religious belief is widespread, scientific knowledge is not. I would guess that very few people in the world are actually interested in the details of contemporary scientific theories. Why? One obvious reason is that many lack access to this knowledge. Another reason is that even when they have access, these theories require sophisticated knowledge and abilities, which not everyone is capable of getting.
Yet another reason — and the one I am interested in here — is that most people aren’t deeply interested in science, even when they have the opportunity and the basic intellectual capacity to learn about it. Of course, educated people who know about science know roughly what Einstein, Newton and Darwin said. Many educated people accept the modern scientific view of the world and understand its main outlines. But this is not the same as being interested in the details of science, or being immersed in scientific thinking.
This lack of interest in science contrasts sharply with the worldwide interest in religion. It’s hard to say whether religion is in decline or growing, partly because it’s hard to identify only one thing as religion — not a question I can address here. But it’s pretty obvious that whatever it is, religion commands and absorbs the passions and intellects of hundreds of millions of people, many more people than science does. Why is this? Is it because — as the new atheists might argue — they want to explain the world in a scientific kind of way, but since they have not been properly educated they haven’t quite got there yet? Or is it because so many people are incurably irrational and are incapable of scientific thinking? Or is something else going on?
Some philosophers have said that religion is so unlike science that it has its own “grammar” or “logic” and should not be held accountable to the same standards as scientific or ordinary empirical belief. When Christians express their belief that “Christ has risen,” for example, they should not be taken as making a factual claim, but as expressing their commitment to what Wittgenstein called a certain “form of life,” a way of seeing significance in the world, a moral and practical outlook which is worlds away from scientific explanation.
This view has some merits, as we shall see, but it grossly misrepresents some central phenomena of religion. It is absolutely essential to religions that they make certain factual or historical claims. When Saint Paul says “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain” he is saying that the point of his faith depends on a certain historical occurrence.
Theologians will debate exactly what it means to claim that Christ has risen, what exactly the meaning and significance of this occurrence is, and will give more or less sophisticated accounts of it. But all I am saying is that whatever its specific nature, Christians must hold that there was such an occurrence. Christianity does make factual, historical claims. But this is not the same as being a kind of proto-science. This will become clear if we reflect a bit on what science involves.
The essence of science involves making hypotheses about the causes and natures of things, in order to explain the phenomena we observe around us, and to predict their future behavior. Some sciences — medical science, for example — make hypotheses about the causes of diseases and test them by intervening. Others — cosmology, for example — make hypotheses that are more remote from everyday causes, and involve a high level of mathematical abstraction and idealization. Scientific reasoning involves an obligation to hold a hypothesis only to the extent that the evidence requires it. Scientists should not accept hypotheses which are “ad hoc” — that is, just tailored for one specific situation but cannot be generalized to others. Most scientific theories involve some kind of generalization: they don’t just make claims about one thing, but about things of a general kind. And their hypotheses are designed, on the whole, to make predictions; and if these predictions don’t come out true, then this is something for the scientists to worry about.
Religions do not construct hypotheses in this sense. I said above that Christianity rests upon certain historical claims, like the claim of the resurrection. But this is not enough to make scientific hypotheses central to Christianity, any more than it makes such hypotheses central to history. It is true, as I have just said, that Christianity does place certain historical events at the heart of their conception of the world, and to that extent, one cannot be a Christian unless one believes that these events happened. Speaking for myself, it is because I reject the factual basis of the central Christian doctrines that I consider myself an atheist. But I do not reject these claims because I think they are bad hypotheses in the scientific sense. Not all factual claims are scientific hypotheses. So I disagree with Richard Dawkins when he says “religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.”
Taken as hypotheses, religious claims do very badly: they are ad hoc, they are arbitrary, they rarely make predictions and when they do they almost never come true. Yet the striking fact is that it does not worry Christians when this happens. In the gospels Jesus predicts the end of the world and the coming of the kingdom of God. It does not worry believers that Jesus was wrong (even if it causes theologians to reinterpret what is meant by ‘the kingdom of God’). If Jesus was framing something like a scientific hypothesis, then it should worry them. Critics of religion might say that this just shows the manifest irrationality of religion. But what it suggests to me is that that something else is going on, other than hypothesis formation.
Religious belief tolerates a high degree of mystery and ignorance in its understanding of the world. When the devout pray, and their prayers are not answered, they do not take this as evidence which has to be weighed alongside all the other evidence that prayer is effective. They feel no obligation whatsoever to weigh the evidence. If God does not answer their prayers, well, there must be some explanation of this, even though we may never know it. Why do people suffer if an omnipotent God loves them? Many complex answers have been offered, but in the end they come down to this: it’s a mystery.
Science too has its share of mysteries (or rather: things that must simply be accepted without further explanation). But one aim of science is to minimize such things, to reduce the number of primitive concepts or primitive explanations. The religious attitude is very different. It does not seek to minimize mystery. Mysteries are accepted as a consequence of what, for the religious, makes the world meaningful.
This point gets to the heart of the difference between science and religion. Religion is an attempt to make sense of the world, but it does not try and do this in the way science does. Science makes sense of the world by showing how things conform to its hypotheses. The characteristic mode of scientific explanation is showing how events fit into a general pattern.
Religion, on the other hand, attempts to make sense of the world by seeing a kind of meaning or significance in things. This kind of significance does not need laws or generalizations, but just the sense that the everyday world we experience is not all there is, and that behind it all is the mystery of God’s presence. The believer is already convinced that God is present in everything, even if they cannot explain this or support it with evidence. But it makes sense of their life by suffusing it with meaning. This is the attitude (seeing God in everything) expressed in George Herbert’s poem, “The Elixir.” Equipped with this attitude, even the most miserable tasks can come to have value: Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws/ Makes that and th’ action fine.
None of these remarks are intended as being for or against religion. Rather, they are part of an attempt (by an atheist, from the outside) to understand what it is. Those who criticize religion should have an accurate understanding of what it is they are criticizing. But to understand a world view, or a philosophy or system of thought, it is not enough just to understand the propositions it contains. You also have to understand what is central and what is peripheral to the view. Religions do make factual and historical claims, and if these claims are false, then the religions fail. But this dependence on fact does not make religious claims anything like hypotheses in the scientific sense. Hypotheses are not central. Rather, what is central is the commitment to the meaningfulness (and therefore the mystery) of the world.
I have suggested that while religious thinking is widespread in the world, scientific thinking is not. I don’t think that this can be accounted for merely in terms of the ignorance or irrationality of human beings. Rather, it is because of the kind of intellectual, emotional and practical appeal that religion has for people, which is a very different appeal from the kind of appeal that science has.
Stephen Jay Gould once argued that religion and science are “non-overlapping magisteria.” If he meant by this that religion makes no factual claims which can be refuted by empirical investigations, then he was wrong. But if he meant that religion and science are very different kinds of attempt to understand the world, then he was certainly right.
Tim Crane is Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of two books, “The Mechanical Mind” (1995) and “Elements of Mind” (2001), and several other publications. He is currently working on two books: one on the representation of the non-existent and another on atheism and humanism.
November 4, 2010, 6:03 pm
The God-Science Shouting Match: A Response
By FRANS DE WAAL
In reading the nearly 700 reader responses to my Oct. 17 essay for The Stone, (“Morals Without God?“) I notice how many readers are relieved to see that there are shades of gray when it comes to the question whether morality requires God. I believe that such a discussion needs to revolve around both the distant past, in which religion likely played little or no role if we go back far enough, and modern times, in which it is hard to disentangle morality and religion. The latter point seemed obvious to me, yet proved controversial. Even though 90 percent of my text questions the religious origins of human morality, and wonders if we need a God to be good, it is the other 10 percent — in which I tentatively assign a role to religion — that drew most ire. Atheists, it seems (at least those who responded here) don’t like any less than 100 percent agreement with their position.
To have a productive debate, religion needs to recognize the power of the scientific method and the truths it has revealed, but its opponents need to recognize that one cannot simply dismiss a social phenomenon found in every major society. If humans are inherently religious, or at least show rituals related to the supernatural, there is a big question to be answered. The issue is not whether or not God exists — which I find to be a monumentally uninteresting question defined, as it is, by the narrow parameters of monotheism — but why humans universally feel the need for supernatural entities. Is this just to stay socially connected or does it also underpin morality? And if so, what will happen to morality in its absence?
Just raising such an obvious issue has become controversial in an atmosphere in which public forums seem to consist of pro-science partisans or pro-religion partisans, and nothing in between. How did we arrive at this level of polarization, this small-mindedness, as if we are taking part in the Oxford Debating Society, where all that matters is winning or losing? It is unfortunate when, in discussing how to lead our lives and why to be good — very personal questions — we end up with a shouting match. There are in fact no answers to these questions, only approximations, and while science may be an excellent source of information it is simply not designed to offer any inspiration in this regard. It used to be that science and religion went together, and in fact (as I tried to illustrate with Bosch’s paintings) Western science ripened in the bosom of Christianity and its explicit desire for truth. Ironically, even atheism may be looked at as a product of this desire, as explained by the philosopher John Gray:
Christianity struck at the root of pagan tolerance of illusion. In claiming that there is only one true faith, it gave truth a supreme value it had not had before. It also made disbelief in the divine possible for the first time. The long-delayed consequence of the Christian faith was an idolatry of truth that found its most complete expression in atheism. (Straw Dogs, 2002).
Those who wish to remove religion and define morality as the pursuit of scientifically defined well-being (à la Sam Harris) should read up on earlier attempts in this regard, such as the Utopian novel “Walden Two” by B. F. Skinner, who thought that humans could achieve greater happiness and productivity if they just paid better attention to the science of reward and punishment. Skinner’s colleague John Watson even envisioned “baby factories” that would dispense with the “mawkish” emotions humans are prone to, an idea applied with disastrous consequences in Romanian orphanages. And talking of Romania, was not the entire Communist experiment an attempt at a society without God? Apart from the question of how moral these societies turned out to be, I find it intriguing that over time Communism began to look more and more like a religion itself. The singing, marching, reciting of poems and pledges and waving in the air of Little Red Books smacked of holy fervor, hence my remark that any movement that tries to promote a certain moral agenda — even while denying God — will soon look like any old religion. Since people look up to those perceived as more knowledgeable, anyone who wants to promote a certain social agenda, even one based on science, will inevitably come face to face with the human tendency to follow leaders and let them do the thinking.
What I would love to see is a debate among moderates. Perhaps it is an illusion that this can be achieved on the Internet, given how it magnifies disagreements, but I do think that most people will be open to a debate that respects both the beliefs held by many and the triumphs of science. There is no obligation for non-religious people to hate religion, and many believers are open to interrogating their own convictions. If the radicals on both ends are unable to talk with each other, this should not keep the rest of us from doing so.
Frans de Waal
Frans B. M. de Waal is a biologist interested in primate behavior. He is C. H. Candler Professor in Psychology, and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, in Atlanta, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. His latest book is “The Age of Empathy.”
Washington - A new research has shown that meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain.
"This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation," said Fadel Zeidan, lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
"We found a big effect - about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent."
For the study, 15 healthy volunteers who had never meditated attended four, 20-minute classes to learn a meditation technique known as focused attention. Focused attention is a form of mindfulness meditation where people are taught to attend to the breath and let go of distracting thoughts and emotions.
Both before and after meditation training, study participants' brain activity was examined using a special type of imaging -- arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI) -- that captures longer duration brain processes, such as meditation, better than a standard MRI scan of brain function.
During these scans, a pain-inducing heat device was placed on the participants' right legs. This device heated a small area of their skin to 120 degree Fahrenheit, a temperature that most people find painful, over a 5-minute period.
The scans taken after meditation training showed that every participant's pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to 93 percent, Zeidan said.
At the same time, meditation significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area that is crucially involved in creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is.
The scans taken before meditation training showed activity in this area was very high. However, when participants were meditating during the scans, activity in this important pain-processing region could not be detected.
The research also showed that meditation increased brain activity in areas including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex.
"These areas all shape how the brain builds an experience of pain from nerve signals that are coming in from the body," said Robert C. Coghill, senior author of the study and associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist.
"Consistent with this function, the more that these areas were activated by meditation the more that pain was reduced. One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing."
Zeidan and colleagues believe that meditation has great potential for clinical use because so little training was required to produce such dramatic pain-relieving effects.
"This study shows that meditation produces real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people to substantially reduce their pain without medications," Zeidan said.
The study has been published in the April 6 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Water-pump system, Seljuk dynasty, 1206. A group of Muslim scholars says there is no inherent conflict between Islam and science.
By Steve Paulson
We may think the charged relationship between science and religion is mainly a problem for Christian fundamentalists, but modern science is also under fire in the Muslim world. Islamic creationist movements are gaining momentum, and growing numbers of Muslims now look to the Quran itself for revelations about science.
Science in Muslim societies already lags far behind the scientific achievements of the West, but what adds a fair amount of contemporary angst is that Islamic civilization was once the unrivaled center of science and philosophy. What's more, Islam's "golden age" flourished while Europe was mired in the Dark Ages.
This history raises a troubling question: What caused the decline of science in the Muslim world?
Secularization is the best thing that's ever happened to religion.
That might seem like a shocking statement for both religious and secular people. But its implications become clear when we unpack new understandings of secularization.
Canada is often called one of the world's more "secular" countries. Observers like me use the term because Canada, especially B.C., has among the highest proportion of residents who say they have "no religion," i.e., don't attend a church, synagogue, mosque or temple.
But it's time to get beyond a narrow understanding of secularization. We need not restrict it to the separation of "church and state" and to describing how an increasing number of people are rejecting formal religion.
A growing collection of philosophers and theologians, including Canada's Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age, maintain we have to move beyond understanding secularization merely as a process of "subtraction," "loss" and "disenchantment."
I support such thinkers' efforts to re-define secularization - as a social development by which religion loses its state-sanctioned authority and moral absolutism (as the Catholic Church once functioned in Europe and Quebec). Secularization is creating societies in which religion is treated as one option among many.
The word "secular" now has as many different meanings as "love" and "spirituality." Because there is a great deal of confusion about it, Britain's Guardian newspaper ran a five-part series on secularism in June.
At prestigious Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., professor Phil Zuckerman is starting this fall to offer a bachelor's degree in secularism. In Cambridge, Mass., Trinity College has a vibrant Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society.
These media and scholarly outlets are going far beyond the one-dimensional cheerleading for secularism led by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, who believe society advances only when religion is eradicated.
In contrast, I strongly endorse the emerging argument that secularization leaves open a great deal of room for new forms of religion and spirituality. Whether in Canada, India or Brazil, secular societies can be fertile places for spiritual expression in a pluralistic context.
One of the most welcome and quoted new books on the subject is Taylor's A Secular Age, an 896-page opus that argues that secularization has been largely positive - as long as it leaves open a "window on the transcendent."
The spiritual and religious impulse in humans will never die, says Taylor. Even if religion doesn't dominate a society, as it once unfortunately did in Europe and elsewhere, people will always seek the transcendent; something ultimate, larger than themselves.
The great sociologist of religion, Robert Bellah, author of Habits of the Heart, says what is needed most now is new forms of religion that work in a secular age, where they are subject to analysis and don't rely on political endorsement.
We are seeing this today. Many open-minded forms of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and of smaller spiritual movements, including meditation, yoga and healing, are maintaining a sense of the transcendent in some secular, pluralistic societies.
We can partly thank the Enlightenment for the rise of secularism, with the era's emphasis on freethinking, rationality and science. But many thinkers, including 19thcentury sociologist Max Weber, also credit the advance of secularism to Protestantism.
The Protestant Reformation rejected the absolute authority claimed by the Roman Catholic church of the time.
It brought a new wave of reform, choice and intellectual questioning to Christianity. By the 19th century, Protestants were critically analyzing the Bible and trying to discern the difference between the "historical Jesus" and the Christ of unquestioned mythology.
This so-called "critical method" wasn't an attack on the faith, as some traditionalistic Christians continue to argue today. But it was what many consider a valid attempt to challenge the taboos that surrounded Christian orthodoxy.
In his new book, Spiritual Bankruptcy (Abingdon Press), philosopher John Cobb maps out some of the pros and cons of secularism.
Cobb believes the religions and philosophies that took root in the socalled Axial Age, about 500 years before Jesus of Nazareth, began as "secularizing" movements.
Early Judaism, Buddhism and Greek philosophy challenged the religious authorities of their day, condemning hypocrisy and superstition.
The fiery Hebrew prophets, who denounced injustice and royal hypocrisy at every turn, were profound secularizers, according to the refreshing definition provided by Cobb, director of the Centre for Process Studies in Claremont, Calif.
Secularization does away with taboos, Cobb says. "It does not give any privileged authority to tradition."
However, reforming movements often develop followers. And they can frequently turn a positive secularizing trend into a static religion or ideology, which tries to create divisions between "us" and "them."
The early Jesus movement was highly critical of Jewish leaders' strict adherence to religious laws. Later, however, Cobb says, much of the Jesus movement turned into what he calls "Christianism."
Some forms of Christianity became theologically and morally authoritarian. Such static religions often expect a place of privilege in society, says Cobb - as Christianity did in Europe and Latin America and Islam has in some Middle Eastern countries.
Dawkins et al. are not wrong to attack such dogmatic, power-hungry religious sects in the name of secularism. Many people justifiably rebel against hard-line forms of religions.
But it is not religion itself that is the problem. It is any ideology that becomes too doctrinaire; that has too rigid a definition of what is acceptable behaviour.
If we are called upon to resist dogmatic religion, we also need to oppose Nazism, fascism, state communism and other ideologies.
Indeed, Cobb believes that for many in the West the dominant ideology is the unrestrained accumulation of wealth.
That, he believes, is the current unquestioned, almighty "God."
Cobb says contemporary economic theory needs to be "secularized." It needs as much criticism as do the over-bearing religions of the past and present.
Like the 19th-century philosopher-psychologist William James and Charles Taylor, Cobb is trying to wed philosophy, theology, science and ethics to create healthy spiritualities within sustainable secular communities.
Canadians, especially residents of highly secularized British Columbia (where more people than anywhere else say they are not traditionally "religious"), should be at the forefront of this campaign. (For related reading, see the book I edited, Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia.) As an active member of the United Methodist Church, Cobb believes "secularizing Christians" should use their minds and imaginations to challenge all religious and non-religious ideologies.
Indeed, Cobb may stun many when he makes the theological statement: "God is always secularizing."
Says Cobb: "God doesn't call us to 'religionize.' God calls us to 'secularize;' to take seriously the past, without being slaves to it. God calls us to bring out of each moment the value that can be achieved; in the name of truth, justice and beauty."
What Science Tells Us: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Benefits of Meditation
Although modern science is only beginning to discover the many-sided benefits of meditation, recent studies have made a number of important findings. "Meditation research, particularly in the last 10 years or so, has shown to be very promising,” says Zoran Josipovic, a research scientist and adjunct professor at New York University, “because it points to an ability of the brain to change and optimize in a way we didn’t know previously was possible.”
“Everyone around the Water cooler knows that meditation reduces stress,” reported Time magazine in 2006. “But With the aid of advanced brain-scanning technology, researchers are beginning to Show that meditation directly affects the function and structure of the brain, changing it in Ways that appear to increase attention span, sharpen focus, and improve memory.”
“Techniques for training and refining the attention, which have long been a central concern of many contemplative traditions, are deeply relevant to the cultivation of mental health,” writes B. Alan Wallace in Spirituality and Health magazine. “They open the door to an extraordinary sense of well-being that arises from a mind that is healthy and balanced.” “One of the most important domains meditation acts upon is emotional inte1ligence — a set of skills far more consequential for life success than cognitive intelligence,” says Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin. Many other researchers concur. “We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior,” said Eileen Luders, a postdoctoral research fellow at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging.
Recently discovered benefits of meditation are not just psychological, but also physical. Time magazine, July 27, 2003, said: “In a study conducted with Wisconsin’s Richard Davidson, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn [of the University of Massachusetts Medical School] gave a group of newly taught meditators and nonmeditators Flu shots and measured the antibody levels in their bl00d.... The meditators [had] more antibodies at both four weeks and eight weeks after the shots....The better your meditation technique, Kabat-Zinn suggests, the healthier your immune system.”
A recent study headed by Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School points to health—enhancing effects of meditation even at the genetic level. Scientists have long known that there are particular genes that predispose a person to specific diseases and health disorders. Now, reports ABC News, “It turns out peaceful thoughts really can influence our bodies, right down to the instructions We receive from our DNA, according to new study.” The Washington Post reports that researchers involved in the study “say they’ve taken a significant stride forward in understanding how relaxation techniques such as meditation, prayer, and yoga improve health: by changing patterns of gene activity that affect how the body responds to stress.”
Joined: 07 May 2008 Posts: 1139 Location: AUSTIN, TEXAS. U.S.A.
Posted: Mon Aug 29, 2011 7:37 am Post subject: Out of Body Experience!
I read an article on the subject of "Astral projection" also called 'Astral Travel" and 'Out of Body Experience", this article was very interesting but it was kind of new subject for me, I haven't have much knowledge in this subject before this article, author writes that some human beings have power to take their soul out of their body and have ability to travel in whole universe!?
They have ability to float in air like birds with their soul also without their physical body!!?, during this travel they have full consciousness they can feel and observe every things even they can see their own body lying on the bed!! interesting ha...
Further he wrote that some advance astral travelers can even visit city of their own choices like New York, London, Mumbai, e.t.c. through this Astral travel and they can come back whenever they want to without any harm to their body!!!??
There are some Astral groups in USA and Canada the members of this group meet on and off and share their experience between members.
As I noted above, I don't have much knowledge on this subject,
therefore I will appreciate if any reader give me more detail on this subject.
I also have few questions, which are as follows:-
- Why all human beings can't experience this kind of out of Body experience?
- Does Astral projection has any connection with meditation?
- Is this kind travel Ruhani travel or not?
- What scientists are says about this travel? i.e. are they accept it or denied it?
- Is any scientific research or study conducted in this subject?
October 4, 2011, 8:51 am
Why Atheists Need Fundamentalists
I’ve written before about the interesting symbiosis that exists between militant atheism and religious fundamentalism — the way the Richard Dawkinses of the world are always eager to insist that a cartoonish figure like Pat Robertson represents the truest form of Christian faith, and that any believer who disagrees with Robertson’s pronouncements on Haiti or Hurricane Katrina obviously doesn’t understand his own religion.
For a recent example of this tendency, consider the fascinating exchange between the prolific Catholic blogger Mark Shea and Jerry Coyne, the author of “Why Evolution Is True” and a Dawkins-esque critic of biblical religion. The subject is human origins, and specifically the debate over whether the Western Christian understanding of original sin — as the fruit of a primal disobedience by the human’s race first family — is compatible with the increasing scientific consensus around polygenism (that is, the theory that today’s human race descends from a larger population rather than a single couple).
Shea touched off the dust-up by arguing that there’s nothing particularly radical, at least from the perspective of the Catholic tradition, about interpreting the first books of Genesis as a “figurative” account of a primeval event, rather than as literal historiography that requires that two and only two human creatures were on the scene when mankind exchanged our original innocence for disobedience and shame.
To Coyne, this idea was absolutely outrageous: In a searing post, he accused Shea of trying to defend “the palpable lies of the Bible” with a lot of hand-waving about allegory and symbolism and myth, when anyone can see that the authors of Genesis were just making stuff up. It’s “nonsense,” Coyne wrote, to suggest that the Old Testament is somehow compatible with human evolution and polygenism: All you have to do is read Genesis itself, which never suggests “that Adam and Eve were anything but the ancestors of all humanity.” To argue otherwise — to “fabricate a huge population of humans, not directly related to Adam and Eve but living at the same time” — is just a crude “attempt to evade the blatant fictionality of the Genesis story by claiming that the book doesn’t say what it seems to say.”
It was a peculiar spectacle, to put it mildly: An atheist attacking a traditionalist believer for not reading Genesis literally. On the merits, Coyne is of course quite correct that some of the details of the Genesis story seem to contradict what science and archaeology suggest about human origins. (For instance, the claim that Adam and Eve were formed from the dust of the ground and a human rib, respectively, not from millennia upon millennia of evolution, the suggestion that they lived in a garden near the Tigris and the Euphrates, not a hunter-gatherer community in Africa, and … well, you get the idea.) But then again some of the details of the Genesis story seem to contradict one another as well, in ways that should inspire even a reader who knows nothing about the controversies surrounding evolution to suspect that what he’s reading isn’t intended as a literal and complete natural history of the human race.
In Genesis 1-2, for instance, we have not one but two creation accounts, which differ from one another in important ways. In Genesis 1 God seems to create “man” as male and female simultaneously, on the sixth day before he rests from his labors. But then in Genesis 2 he creates Adam alone, lets him name all the animals and roam Eden long enough to get lonely, and only then creates Eve from Adam’s rib. Or again, in Genesis 1 we have God saying “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth” several days before he creates humankind. And yet in Genesis 2 we’re told that at the time God forged Adam from the dust of the earth, “no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up.” And so on.
The same pattern extends to the books that follow. As Coyne says, taken on its own the account of Eden and the Fall implies that Adam and Eve are the only human beings in the world, and the story of Cain and Abel makes no reference to further creations happening in the next county over. And yet then we have this:
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.
But where are these wives and cities coming from, if Genesis is supposed to be a just-the-facts account of the creation of the world? For that matter, who are all these people (not one or two, but plainly lots and lots of them) Cain is so worried will find him and kill him for his crimes? Coyne’s claim that the Bible offers “no evidence that Adam and Eve were anything but the ancestors of all humanity” only holds true if you engage in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2 and then stop reading there. If you continue to Genesis 4 (which is just a few pages later!), the text strongly suggests that other human beings were somehow contemporaneous with the first family, and that the human race probably didn’t just descend from Adam and Eve alone.
Now one can draw two possible conclusions from these difficulties. One possibility is that the authors and compilers of Genesis weren’t just liars; they were really stupid liars, who didn’t bother doing the basic work required to make their fabrication remotely plausible or coherent. The other possibility is that Genesis was never intended to be read as a literal blow-by-blow history of the human race’s first few months, and that its account of how sin entered the world partakes of allegorical and symbolic elements — like many other stories in the Bible, from the Book of Job to the Book of Revelation — to make a theological and moral point.
One can take the latter view and still argue that evolution by natural selection creates challenges for the way Christian theology (though less so Jewish theology, I think) traditionally interprets the Genesis story. (I’ve aired versions of this argument myself: Here, here and here, for instance.) But that’s very different from arguing that either the Genesis story or evolutionary biology has to be a “palpable lie,” and implying anyone who accepts Darwinian evolution has to dismiss the first book of the Old Testament as the ancient equivalent of the Hitler Diaries. This is the view of many fundamentalists, of course. But it’s extremely telling that an atheist like Coyne insists on it as well.
November 3, 2011, 5:00 pm
Science, Faith and First Principles: A Response
By MICHAEL P. LYNCH
Does everything — even science — come down to faith?
This is a common, recurring thought in our culture. But its very persistence can seem a bit mysterious. After all, taken one way, it is easy to answer. “Science” isn’t a name for a collection of beliefs. It names a collection of methods for acquiring beliefs — methods that involve logic, observation and experiment. It is these methods that distinguish science, not doctrine. So in that sense, science is clearly not a faith — it isn’t a religion.
Nonetheless, the thought that science may still be based on something like faith remains. And there is a reason it hangs around. Like so many nagging questions, the idea that science is not free from faith contains a grain of truth.
In an earlier post, “Reasons for Reasons,” I noted that even science has its first principles. These principles — call them epistemic principles — tell us what methods and sources to trust. They are fundamental (“first”) precisely because you can’t defend them without relying on them. (Try giving a good argument for why logic is reliable that doesn’t use logic.) As some of the comments on that post reveal, the fact that it is difficult to defend first epistemic principles is what causes many people to think that even science is based on faith. Defending the principles of science by relying on them seems like no defense at all. So, some conclude, reasons run out and faith takes over.
Prioritizing scientific methods is liberating precisely because it frees one from appeals to authority.
This reaction is understandable. But it rests on a mistake. It is right that we can’t give epistemic reasons — evidence — for those fundamental principles that tell us what evidence to trust. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give reasons for those principles at all. Indeed, we had better. As I argued in the first post, dogmatism, or conviction without reason, is the enemy of the democratic enterprise. But the reasons we give can’t involve further appeals to methods for belief. We can’t give epistemic reasons for epistemic first principles. We have to give reasons of a different sort.
But what sort of reasons? A number of readers of that post suggested that the methods and principles of science are superior simply because they are more useful. It is only by relying on them that we can build bridges, cure diseases and so on. And of course that is correct. But this point alone won’t answer the skeptics about reason. First, skeptics about scientific reason are rarely if ever skeptical about it across the board. Their quarrel is with its use in certain domains. They aren’t going to say that we should never use observation, logic and experiment to figure things out. What they will argue is that these methods have a lower priority in some subjects than others. In some domains, other methods — such as consultation of sacred texts — trump.
Nonetheless, appealing to the utility of science is a good start: it is the right sort of reason, even if it is, by itself, insufficient. Even if we can’t give epistemic reasons for epistemic first principles, we can give what philosophers sometimes call practical reasons for employing the methods of science, and therefore for committing to the principles that give them more weight than others.
Here’s one example of what I have in mind. Scientific principles of rationality have certain democratic virtues that many of their rivals lack. One of the virtues of scientific rationality is that it privileges principles that — as we in fact just noted — everyone appeals to most of the time — just because we are built that way. Of course the fact that people can’t help but use methods like observation and logic doesn’t prove that those methods are always more reliable than others, or even reliable at all. (Just as the fact that people thought the earth was flat doesn’t mean it was). But it does mean that principles which privilege these methods — which give them more weight than others, no matter what the question — have an obvious virtue: they recommend methods that aren’t secret or the province of a few. They recommend methods that everyone can and does use. Indeed, it is this very virtue of scientific methods that was so celebrated in the Enlightenment. Prioritizing scientific methods is liberating precisely because it frees one from appeals to authority, from the thought that something is true because some person, religious tradition, or political party, says so.
But isn’t it just a matter of opinion that scientific methods are open and democratic in this way? Do we have any real reasons — other than personal preference — for thinking this is the case? I think we do. Here’s a brief thought experiment that makes the point. Imagine playing a game the point of which is to figure out, together with other players, what epistemic principles and methods to privilege on another world (call it Parallel Earth). Principles are privileged on Parallel Earth, let’s imagine, when they are taught in the schools, used to make decisions about grants and the like. In playing the game, you know that Parallel Earth will appear to be just like our planet. And you also know you will live on Parallel Earth after the game ends. But you don’t know two important facts: when playing the game, you don’t know what social and educational position you’ll occupy on Parallel Earth. And you don’t know what methods are going to be reliable on Parallel Earth. But you have to decide which methods to privilege on Parallel Earth anyway. 
More From The Stone
Read previous contributions to this series.
So how are you going to decide? Since, in playing the game, you don’t know which methods are actually going to be reliable (or if any will be), you can’t base your decisions on which methods we think will produce the truth. That’s out of bounds as far as the game is concerned. And yet since you also don’t know your future social position, it is unlikely you’ll decide on methods that would only be available to a few, or which would allow some people to have secret knowledge that no one else could ever obtain. After all, you might not turn out to be a member of the inner circle. Given the rules, it will make sense to endorse methods that build on abilities that everyone — just by being human — can appeal to. Methods that build on common experience are by nature non-secret, open to public revision and capable of being used repeatedly. That alone gives us a practical reason to privilege them, to give them more weight — independently of the question of whether they are reliable.
Of course, it would take more work to show in detail that scientific principles and methods would turn out to have more of these democratic virtues than other, competing principles. But it seems very likely that they do. And if so, we have an objective reason for favoring scientific principles of rationality over others — a reason that could be accepted no matter what your prior epistemic commitments. The first principles of science give weight to methods like observation and experiment. Because of their open public nature, they are the sorts of principles we would commit to even were we to abstract from their truth. These are the principles we would favor in an ideal state of social and epistemic equality. As such, our faith in them — our faith in reason, as it were — is not blind. It is an expression of our commitment to democracy itself.
 As many readers will recognize, this thought experiment is a modification of a very famous argument of political philosopher John Rawls. Rawls argued that the most rational principles of justice are those we would accept in an ideal state of equality — the “original position”. I am not defending that view here, but I am obviously extending the argumentative strategy.
[Because of an editing error, this footnote was omitted in an earlier version of this post].
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