Friday, February 27, 2009

(250) Another such cough

On the morning of February 27th 2009 I at last got around to making amendments to my essay Playing The Game at my other Blog - .

The alteration I made was to include the text of an e mail that I had sent to Bob Woffinden and the Ingrams on May 10th 2008, and which I later forwarded to Jon Ronson, as a codicil to the essay´s first point.
On each occasion I had headed the e mail
Another Such Cough.
It read -

As a further illustration of what I am getting at, at a car boot fair this morning a stall holder brought up with me the subject of Ingram´s win and mentioned the signals "... whenever the guy coughed".

At the adjacent stall was a lady, a smoker, who had earlier that morning, with myself, helped herself to one of the first guy´s chips.

At the word "coughed" she coughed. She never coughed again the whole morning.
I pointed this out to them.

A few minutes after I did so my wife drew my attention to something which she had just spotted in The Sun on line. It was an article hinting that Tarrant might be abandoning his job as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? host -

Tarrant says that doctors have diagnosed that his long hours in the studio have led him to develop asthma.

6 days earlier The Sun also quoted Tarrant as saying that he now really wants to play the role of a gangster in a soap opera an idea he had mentioned some years before -
See also the foot of Entry 229.

Later I went to Wikipedia with the intent of copying the list of my books from the entry on myself and saw that a Dutchman unknown to me had added a photo of me holding a copy of Coincidences.
The previous day I had noted a thread at the site headed COINCIDENCES -

Thursday, February 26, 2009

(249) Beginning to learn to think

In the early hours of February 22nd 2009 I made a contribution to a Blog of Prof. Colin Blakemore´s at Comment Is Free entitled Science is just one gene away from defeating religion
Prof. B. argued hard for a materialist view of everything and suggested that we may soon nail the genes that force so many to take religious ideas seriously.

... at Cambridge... I walked to lectures past the Cavendish Lab... One day, scrawled on the wall, was... "CRICK FOR GOD".
No surprise that pivotal advances in science provoke religious metaphors. Crick and Watson's discovery transformed our view of life itself - from a manifestation of spiritual magic to a chemical process. One more territorial gain in the metaphysical chess match between science and religion.

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was certainly a vital move in that chess game - if not checkmate. In an interview for God and the Scientists, to be broadcast tonight... Richard Dawkins declares: "Darwin removed the main argument for God's existence."

...Throughout the love-hate relationship between science and Christianity, the idea that human rationality is a gift from God has frequently been used as a justification, or an excuse, for scientific inquiry...
Science has rampaged over the landscape of divine explanation, provoking denial or surrender from the church...

Science is brilliant at questions that start "how", but religion is the only approach to questions that start "why". Throughout history, human beings have asked those difficult "why" questions.
It's true that spiritual beliefs of one form or another are universal, almost as defining of humanity as language is. But the universality of language and the fact that bits of the human brain are clearly specialised to do language suggest that our genes give us language-learning brains. Is the same true of religion?
Brain scanning has indeed shown particular bits of the brain lighting up with activity when people pray... or recollect intense religious experiences. Richard Harries said: "It would not be surprising if God had created us with a physical facility for belief."
But there is another interpretation, which might eventually lead to the completion of the scientific harvest.
..increasingly, those who study the human brain see our experiences, even of our own intentions, as being an illusory commentary on what our brains have already decided to do... could the pervasive human belief in supernatural forces and spiritual agents, controlling the physical world, and influencing our moral judgments, be an extension of that false logic, a misconception no more significant than a visual illusion?
I'm dubious about those "why" questions: why are we here? Why do we have a sense of right and wrong? Either they make no sense or they can be recast as the kind of "how" questions that science answers so well.
When we understand how our brains generate religious ideas, and what the Darwinian adaptive value of such brain processes is, what will be left for religion?

The spawned thread had 712 comments. Mine was the first -
22 Feb 09, 12:23am
He didn´t checkmate me, pal.
And I´m a Grandmaster.
I think Darwinian theory is codswallop.
But harmless codswallop.

Later that morning I competed in a one day chess event at Pilar de la Horadada.
I took with me into the tournament hall a copy of a book which I had purchased some years earlier but which I had only recently began to read through: Philosophy for Beginners by Dave Robinson and Judy Groves
I had been prompted by the realisation that my knowledge of even basic philosophy was inadequate.
I had read some books on the subject, including Russell´s History of Western Philosophy, in the 1980s, but not nearly enough on so important a topic.
It was a rarity to see anyone with a book at such an event, but to my surprise I spotted a friend of some six years, and ex-team-mate, Ivan Hernandez, carrying a copy of Principios elementales de filosofia by Georges Politzer.
This was a Fontana book in their Clasicos Universales series.

I had cetainly never seen the Chilean Hernandez carrying a book anywhere before and pointed out to him the coincidence of us reading books of similar titles.
Politzer, of whom I think I had never previously heard, was very much a materialist, as this quote from his 1926 work L´ Esprit makes clear -

... for the new philosophy, there can not be dualism between certainty and security... The new philosophers will have nothing more than mere certainty. Truly, philosopher will become anew a dangerous occupation, as it was in heroic times. The philosophers will anew be the friends of the truth, but by the same turn, enemies of the gods, enemies of the state, and corrupters of youth. Philosophy will, anew, involve a risk. A selection will then take place. They will not arrive at the truth but who love it to the point of daring to transform spiritual ventures into material ones.

In the 4th round I played Daniel Zuniga and again was surprised to see that he too had a book with him. It was subtitled Las Claves Para La Educacion (The Keys for Education) although its full title was a rendition into Spanish of The Learning Brain: Lessons for Education.
It was co-authored by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Uta Frith.
The Blakemore name jumped out at me. I was to discover that this was the Professor´s daughter.
It was about
what we really know about how the brain learns, and the implications of this knowledge for educational policy and practice, covering studies on learning during the whole of development, including adulthood.

Daniel explained that the book was not his but belonged to fellow contestant Grandmaster Mihai Suba. I had known Mihai for 20 years but could not recall ever before seeing him with a book.

Monday, February 16, 2009

(248) Big time blogging at The Times

My Statcounter showed that at 7.20 a.m. on Feb 15th 2009 someone in Tokyo had put
Chess Dream-A
into a search engine.

The 2nd and 3rd hits were of this blog, but the 8th was -

Thought Experiments : The Blog: Living the Dream

- [ 翻译此页 ]It's as if she has awoken from a dream, a rather pleasant dream, ... (Why couldn
't it have been chess, where I might have turned my obsession to account, ... - 27k -

I was intrigued and followed the link to discover Bryan Appleyard´s blog.
I had no previous idea that he blogged.

Amusedly I sent him this e mail of pretend annoyance at 13:23, Spanish time, Feb 15th 2009 -

I note a Blog entry of yours of July 18th 2008 headed
Living The Dream.

You have stolen the title of my Blog!

I shall write to The Times...


The next day I looked at The Times on line and saw an article headed The guide to the 100 best blogs: Part One
but with no clue from that to the author.

I clicked on it and saw it was from the previous day´s Sunday Times under the heading

Most Read.

It was by Appleyard -

Appleyard says at his blog that he began it in March 2006.

I also began mine then.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

(247) The only thing that truly matters

At 9.20 a.m. on February 9th 2009 (the 25th anniversary of my commencing a diary) I was reading an interview with Jeremy Paxman in the online edition of The Guardian.

At the same time I was musing on how gnosis was the only really important thing.

I was thinking of saying to an interviewer - maybe even him - that above all political comment, all art, all efforts to find justice, all criticism of neo-Darwinism and of the philosophical arguments for God´s existence this was really the only thing that mattered: direct experience of the divine.
Spiritual consciousness.

When I had my first experience of higher consciousness in June 1986, I found, as I reviewed it immediately afterwards, the Elkie Brooks song No More The Fool was playing in my head.

The gnosis I sought I now had.
I knew and for the rest of my life would be a knower.

I thought of an image that had come to me before re our efforts to bring Douglas Baker to justice, i.e.
cops rushing into a house as they are notified that a dangerous criminal is upstairs.
On the ground floor they note, out of the corners of their eyes as they dash past, some magical happenings.
But they are Police officers and have not been summoned to the premises for any reason other than to investigate or even apprehend a criminal, and hurry upstairs... but so they miss the point.

The real point.

I then read further on in the Paxman interview until I read something which had been invisible before:
"I suppose as one gets older - I would have described it at the age of 21 as the process of selling out, but another way of looking at it is to say, actually, the world is not a very simple place, and that as you get older simple-minded solutions seem less attractive."
Paxman will turn 60 next year. It is hard to say what he deeply believes in, and I doubt this is due entirely to a public obligation of neutrality. The opinions he offers tend towards the banally mainstream: Tony Blair was an "amazing phenomenon"; the "end of ideology" makes this political generation less exciting; "professional politicians" have seen off Westminster's great characters, and so on. His books hint at a vaguely middlebrow sentimentality. He began going to church 20 years ago, but stopped a decade ago, when he lost his faith in faith.
"Is that something I don't want to talk about?" he ponders, when I ask where he stands on God today. "Yeah, it probably is." For a moment it is as if he is talking to himself. Then, suddenly earnest, "I mean, it is the only important question really. Is there a purpose? And I've not got an answer to that. And to suggest that I have a hard and fast position on this matter implies a degree of certainty that I don't have, and I wish I did. Life would be much easier if you knew."

Se Paxman at 22:25 here debating Pascal´s Wager with Christopher Hitchens -

(246) Pascal´s Wager: tossing a coin on the ultimate bet

On the evening of February 8th 2009 I was reading from and contributing to a blog at the Guardian´s Comment Is Free section.
It was by Sean Clarke -
Join my campaign for a middle way in the atheist/theist bus debate. You have nothing much to lose, and plenty to gain
You wait ages for a bus-based theological advertising campaign, and then two come along at once. But I think it's time for a third. If Blaise Pascal were in charge, the ad would read something like:
There might be a God after all. Maybe you should factor that in.
The original atheist bus campaign irritated detractors in its own camp for the word probably: "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life." It was, said the hardliners with open contempt, an agnostic bus campaign.
Then came the Christian counterstrike. The Christians want to put together an ad saying: "There definitely is a God. So join the Christian party and enjoy your life."...
It strikes me that my man Blaise "Sums" Pascal has been overlooked in all this. "Sums" memorably commented that, as a gambler, if you didn't know whether or not there is a God, you might as well behave as if there were. Winnings: eternal life, infinite bliss etc. Stakes: forgoing a bit of bad behaviour. Odds: immaterial. It's like a twopenny lottery ticket to win the world – you can spare those two pennies.
Pascal's advice on the bus front, I think, would be the following. Given what we know about the stakes, it's worth putting a punt on the existence of God... Better to state openly that you believe at least in the possibility of him/her and to perform some act of charity, as an earnest of good faith...
I posted something re the primacy of direct personal experience of the divine -

  • JamesPlaskett's profile picture JamesPlaskett

    07 Feb 09, 1:09pm
    What might be a more accurate representation on the side of a bus of the attitudes of Blaise Pascal is not the wager which he PUBLICLY spoke of during his short life, but the wording his servant found on a scrap of paper hidden in the lining of his coat... a testimony of something that had happened 8 years earlier.
    Pascal had written it down and kept the paper close to his heart.
    Here is what it said:
    ‘In the year of Grace, 1654, on Monday 23rd of November… From about half past ten in the evening Until about half past twelve:
    FIRE! God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob Not of the philosophers and scholars Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace God of Jesus Christ. Fire!
    Now he said nothing about it during his life, whilst going through the motions of church attendance and obeisance in all the accepted modes of his time and place.
    But the reality of what made him embrace the supernatural only became apparent after he died.
    Indeed it may well be that this is far more common than is popularly supposed.
    When researching her 1984 book, The Making of A Moonie, Eileen Barker presented a questionnaire to members of the Unification Church and also to a control group.
    It contained one question that had also been asked of a hundred postgraduate students by David Hay:
    "Have you ever had any religious or mystical experiences."
    So high was the percentage that said they had, often with accompanying comments like, "
    No Ive not told anyone. For the simple reason, theres such a lot of disbelievers about, and theyd ridicule you, like
    ", that she felt that the emphasis in psychology was put on the wrong factors.
    I do not therefore, want to suggest that Moonies are unique or freakish because they will (very probably) have had some kind of religious experience; I do, however, want to point out that they find themselves in an environment in which they (and, indeed, others) BELIEVE that such experiences are uncommon and that those who have them can be considered slightly (or very nutty).
    Reading through the responses of both Moonies and the control group, I began to feel that had Freud been studying present-day students in Britain rather than 19th century matrons in Vienna, he might have concluded that it was spiritual rather than sexual repression which lay at the root of many current frustrations. It is, after all, often quite acceptable for a student to tell his friends whom he slept with the previous night. He is far less likely to tell them that Our Lady appeared while he was saying his prayers.
    As the 21st century dawns science and religion are in opposition.
    It has no always been so.
    But these days reductionism, neo-Darwinism and atheism rule, so such spiritual experience gets hushed up.
    It is such experience more than anything else which refutes atheism.
    Without it you´re left weighing up the classical arguments for God or choosing which of the religious creeds is the right one.
    Having been touched just once by divine consciousness you from then on are a gnostic, and simply know that materialism is wrong.
    The catch is that it is a Cassandrine gift. She could prophecy the future accurately, with the snag that nobody would ever believe her.
    The inability to provide the slightest evidence for any gnostic experience is what cowed the students in the above cited survey not to speak of them.
    And what caused Blaise Pascal to carry the treasure close to his heart for the rest of his days.
    But never to speak of it.
    And certainly not to paste it on the side of any bus.

It prompted a cogent question, to which I later responded -

  • JamesPlaskett's profile picture JamesPlaskett

    07 Feb 09, 9:32pm
    robbo100 posts -
    @ JamesPlaskett
    Why doesn't God make himself known in no uncertain terms to everyone rather than just a rare few then? He could do, couldn't he, if he's all powerful? He could do it so even the likes of Richard Dawkins could be in no doubt.
    Bloody good question...
    Gnosis has made me a Theist... yet His seeming caprice makes me not humble and pious, but rather frustrated and pissed off.
    We ARE indeed, robbo100, entitled to a clearer insight into what the deal is.
    At Dr Thacker´s
    God On Trial CiF Blog
    mikeeverest posted
    at Sep 07 08, 11:23am -
    There is no argument for the existence of God, there is only experience.
    I wish those who claim to have Faith would stop trying to provide explanations for Him. How arrogant is that?
    If you want to know God, meditate. You will, eventually, experience direct, incontrovertible proof of His love and your connectedness with everything in the Universe. Then you will have Faith and no fear.
    Religion is a distraction, an obstacle, a man-made vehicle for power mongers and oppressors and for those trying to make sense intellectually of something that is beyond all human understanding BUT NOT HUMAN EXPERIENCE.
    Be scientific, conduct the experiment. And yes, it is replicable, millions have carried out the same experiment and report the same results.
    And -
    at Martin Kettle´s May 27th 2007 The Dawkins Delusion CiF Blog, please do note this from
    Chewtoy -
    28 May 07, 5:41pm
    A modern day myth just as persistent as religious ones is that scientists and rational atheists can't be bigots.
    Recently I saw the BBC Horizon episode 'God On The Brain' in which spontaneous religious experiences were linked to certain temporal lobe activity, caused by for instance epileptic seizures. A neurotheological scientist called Dr Persinger has developed a helmet creating an electromagnetic field that triggers the same effect and Richard Dawkins was invited to test it. Dawkins repeatedly said: "I really want to have a mystical experience". The conviction with which he said this and the look on his face reminded me of a kid who feels left out after not receiving an invitation to a party. This suggests to me that his zealous rants are somewhat based on jealousy. I strongly suggest he try psilocybin.
    Whereas I personally would not advocate halucinogens as a means of cleansing the doors of perception ( I have never taken drugs )
  • JamesPlaskett's profile picture JamesPlaskett

    07 Feb 09, 9:41pm
    (SORRY: last post went up before completion!)
    I find Chewtoy´s pointing out Richard´s repeated expressed desire for Gnosis very noteworthy.
    Traditionally the religious impulse in man has found two types of expression:
    the first sees religion as the acceptance of a received doctrine.
    The second sees it as essentially a search.
    Gnosis is the goal of such a search.
    To address your inquiry, robbo; perhaps it is the lack of spiritual inquiry by people, including the man you nominate, which underlies their lack of gnosis?
    mikeeverest suggests, to my mind, a far more wholesome way of searching than that advocated by Chewtoy.
    But each, like Dawkins, looks down on mere believers in God.
  • Then later -
  • JamesPlaskett's profile picture JamesPlaskett

    08 Feb 09, 2:29pm
    I´ve just bet on Slumdog Millionaire to win Best Picture both at tonight´s Baftas and also the Oscars later this month.
    Good bet; but no bet is a safe one...
And lastly -
  • JamesPlaskett's profile picture JamesPlaskett

    08 Feb 09, 6:17pm
    robbo100; to continue my response to your query as to why a higher power does not confer spiritual experiences on all, even Richard Dawkins, and after having posted above Chewboy´s post in which he refers to Dawkins´"jealousy" of and desire for such knowing of the divine - check out this from a recent blog of thread contributor Jonathan West where he writes of a friend´s mystical experience -
    He is aware that experiences similar to his do pop up in the writings of various religions. He knows that while the details of his experience are unique to him, he is far from alone in having something like this happen to him.
    He is able to summon echoes of the experience from time to time.
    ... ... ...
    I have to admit to a twinge of envy. I've never had an experience like that. Perhaps my brain chemistry is such that it can't possibly happen to me. Perhaps my life has taken a sufficiently smooth path that my unconscious hasn't needed to scream so loudly at me. Perhaps God is content for me not to believe in him and has decided that I need no evidence of him. I have no means of knowing. In the absence of any comparable experience of my own, I am leaving him to interpret his experience in a way that he finds meaningful. The effects on him are clear enough and exist even though the causes are unknown, so I see no need to attempt to impose my interpretation of the events on him.
    Hmmm.... Seems the recounting of gnosis does indeed evoke jealousy in the breast of even the professed atheist.
    After all arguments, ontological, teleological, design-based or revelatory have been refuted, there remains for atheists the problem of testimony of direct perception of the supernatural experience.
    West admits it, and I think Chewtoy got under Dawkins´ skin with his comments on why the Prof. seemed so desirous of it.
    Investigation is the opposite of the blind acceptance of dogma.
    Is it really to much to hope that at some future point we will have a spiritual science, and thus "
    be far closer to understanding Man´s true nature
    " as Sue Blackmore speculated in The Sceptical Inquirer of Fall 1986?
    In the post above empathyfreak writes
    If you do not know whether something is true or false, then it is 50% likely to be true.
    ... ... ...
    Translated back to pascal's example, if I don't know whether the moon is made of green cheese or not......
    But remember he had those extra couple of words....."if you can never know whether the moon is made of green cheese........"
    But we CAN investigate the composition of the moon, and have done so.
    In the 1700s the French Academy of Science pronounced on the urban myth that stones fall from the sky:
    There are no stones in the sky therefore stones cannot fall from the sky.
    Rational enough.
    But on April 26th 1803, only some 30 yrs later, thousands of meteorites pelted the town of L´Aigle 140 kms from Paris.
    Jean-Baptiste Biot collected 38 kilos of the rock and exhibited it to the Academie.
    He also noted that along with the vast number of clearly non-indigenous stones there was another kind of evidence: moral evidence.
    The testimony of so many people that the rock was extraterrestrial.
    A thing dismissed as supernatural had to become incorporated into mainstream, accepted science.
    The only other way to acquire such rock was one which never occurred to anyone of that time: go up and get it..
    That happened 163 yrs later when Aldrin and Armstrong brought back the first samples of moon rock.
    Note just where the confirming meteorite shower chose to land.
    Not in the water with which 75% of our planet is covered. Not in the fields.
    On a specific named spot, a small town only a few hours by horse from where the Academie itself was based.
    During daylight, so everyone could attest to the reality of rocks falling from the sky.
    Thousands of them.
    The first words spoken on the moon were
    "The Eagle has landed."
    L´Aigle means The Eagle.
Having posted that I moved out of the room to where my wife and son were watching the beginning of No Country For Old Men, although here had been no prior announcement of their intent.
Fiona had seen it before and recommended it.
I decided to watch it through with them.

I noted that on two occasions a psychopathic killer allows an intended victim to call on a coin toss. The first time the man, unaware of the significance of the toss, called it correctly. His life was thus spared.
The second time was almost at the end where he permits a woman to choose.

The outcome is not entirely clarified, but it seems that she dies.

I then moved back to the Guardian thread and later posted -
  • JamesPlaskett's profile picture JamesPlaskett

    08 Feb 09, 11:22pm
    Dunno about Pascal´s wager but Jimmy´s just worked.
    I posted earlier -
    08 Feb 09, 2:29pm
    I´ve just bet on Slumdog Millionaire to win Best Picture both at tonight´s Baftas and also the Oscars later this month.
    Good bet; but no bet is a safe one...
    Now 43 quid richer.
I am not 100% certain about it but I think that the Bafta Award was given whilst I watched No Country For Old Men.
I did not appreciate until later that that flm was the winner of the Best Picture Oscar, as well as three others, at the 2008 Oscars.