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The Sacred Mundane

42 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 March 2009 09:53AM

Followup toIs Humanism a Religion-Substitute?

So I was reading (around the first half of) Adam Frank's The Constant Fire, in preparation for my Bloggingheads dialogue with him.  Adam Frank's book is about the experience of the sacred.  I might not usually call it that, but of course I know the experience Frank is talking about.  It's what I feel when I watch a video of a space shuttle launch; or what I feel—to a lesser extent, because in this world it is too common—when I look up at the stars at night, and think about what they mean.  Or the birth of a child, say.  That which is significant in the Unfolding Story.

Adam Frank holds that this experience is something that science holds deeply in common with religion.  As opposed to e.g. being a basic human quality which religion corrupts.

The Constant Fire quotes William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience as saying:

Religion... shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude; so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.

And this theme is developed further:  Sacredness is something intensely private and individual.

Which completely nonplussed me.  Am I supposed to not have any feeling of sacredness if I'm one of many people watching the video of SpaceShipOne winning the X-Prize?  Why not?  Am I supposed to think that my experience of sacredness has to be somehow different from that of all the other people watching?  Why, when we all have the same brain design?  Indeed, why would I need to believe I was unique?  (But "unique" is another word Adam Frank uses; so-and-so's "unique experience of the sacred".)  Is the feeling private in the same sense that we have difficulty communicating any experience?  Then why emphasize this of sacredness, rather than sneezing?

The light came on when I realized that I was looking at a trick of Dark Side Epistemology—if you make something private, that shields it from criticism.  You can say, "You can't criticize me, because this is my private, inner experience that you can never access to question it."

But the price of shielding yourself from criticism is that you are cast into solitude—the solitude that William James admired as the core of religious experience, as if loneliness were a good thing.

Such relics of Dark Side Epistemology are key to understanding the many ways that religion twists the experience of sacredness:

Mysteriousness—why should the sacred have to be mysterious?  A space shuttle launch gets by just fine without being mysterious.  How much less would I appreciate the stars if I did not know what they were, if they were just little points in the night sky?  But if your religious beliefs are questioned—if someone asks, "Why doesn't God heal amputees?"—then you take refuge and say, in a tone of deep profundity, "It is a sacred mystery!"  There are questions that must not be asked, and answers that must not be acknowledged, to defend the lie.  Thus unanswerability comes to be associated with sacredness.  And the price of shielding yourself from criticism is giving up the true curiosity that truly wishes to find answers.  You will worship your own ignorance of the temporarily unanswered questions of your own generation—probably including ones that are already answered.

Faith—in the early days of religion, when people were more naive, when even intelligent folk actually believed that stuff, religions staked their reputation upon the testimony of miracles in their scriptures.  And Christian archaeologists set forth truly expecting to find the ruins of Noah's Ark.  But when no such evidence was forthcoming, then religion executed what William Bartley called the retreat to commitment, "I believe because I believe!"  Thus belief without good evidence came to be associated with the experience of the sacred.  And the price of shielding yourself from criticism is that you sacrifice your ability to think clearly about that which is sacred, and to progress in your understanding of the sacred, and relinquish mistakes.

Experientialism—if before you thought that the rainbow was a sacred contract of God with humanity, and then you begin to realize that God doesn't exist, then you may execute a retreat to pure experience—to praise yourself just for feeling such wonderful sensations when you think about God, whether or not God actually exists.  And the price of shielding yourself from criticism is solipsism: your experience is stripped of its referents.  What a terrible hollow feeling it would be to watch a space shuttle rising on a pillar of flame, and say to yourself, "But it doesn't really matter whether the space shuttle actually exists, so long as I feel."

Separation—if the sacred realm is not subject to ordinary rules of evidence or investigable by ordinary means, then it must be different in kind from the world of mundane matter: and so we are less likely to think of a space shuttle as a candidate for sacredness, because it is a work of merely human hands.  Keats lost his admiration of the rainbow and demoted it to the "dull catalogue of mundane things" for the crime of its woof and texture being known.  And the price of shielding yourself from all ordinary criticism is that you lose the sacredness of all merely real things.

Privacy—of this I have already spoken.

Such distortions are why we had best not to try to salvage religion.  No, not even in the form of "spirituality".  Take away the institutions and the factual mistakes, subtract the churches and the scriptures, and you're left with... all this nonsense about mysteriousness, faith, solipsistic experience, private solitude, and discontinuity.

The original lie is only the beginning of the problem.  Then you have all the ill habits of thought that have evolved to defend it.  Religion is a poisoned chalice, from which we had best not even sip.  Spirituality is the same cup after the original pellet of poison has been taken out, and only the dissolved portion remains—a little less directly lethal, but still not good for you.

When a lie has been defended for ages upon ages, the true origin of the inherited habits lost in the mists, with layer after layer of undocumented sickness; then the wise, I think, will start over from scratch, rather than trying to selectively discard the original lie while keeping the habits of thought that protected it.  Just admit you were wrong, give up entirely on the mistake, stop defending it at all, stop trying to say you were even a little right, stop trying to save face, just say "Oops!" and throw out the whole thing and begin again.

That capacity—to really, really, without defense, admit you were entirely wrong—is why religious experience will never be like scientific experience.  No religion can absorb that capacity without losing itself entirely and becoming simple humanity...

...to just look up at the distant stars.  Believable without strain, without a constant distracting struggle to fend off your awareness of the counterevidence.  Truly there in the world, the experience united with the referent, a solid part of that unfolding story.  Knowable without threat, offering true meat for curiosity.  Shared in togetherness with the many other onlookers, no need to retreat to privacy.  Made of the same fabric as yourself and all other things.  Most holy and beautiful, the sacred mundane.

 

Part of the Against Rationalization subsequence of How To Actually Change Your Mind

Next post: "Singlethink" (start of next subsequence)

Previous post: "Dark Side Epistemology"

Comments (103)

Comment author: Alan 25 March 2009 05:02:32PM 11 points [-]

William James' "Varieties of Religious Experience" was derived from the Gifford Lecture series he delivered around 1900-1902. The first thing to bear in mind, then, is that James' definition of religion was intended as a working definition in order that his audience could follow his exposition. As a founding father of the field of modern psychology and a proponent of pragmatic philosophy, dogmatism wasn't at all a part of James' style.

Secondly, brilliant and amiable as he may have been in person, James referred to himself as a "sick soul," given to bouts of psychic entropy (i.e, depression). His emphasis on the experiential quality of spirituality had nothing to do with supporting dogma or hewing to community supersition. Rather, James saw positive spiritual experience as psychic uplift, eudaemonia--experienced idiosyncratically at the individual level, and sought to examine and cultivate such experiences. Seen from another vantage point, James was in fact exploring a world view based on seeking out the sacred in the mundane.

Comment author: Yvain 25 March 2009 12:37:10PM *  36 points [-]

There's a difference between "moving experience" and "spiritual experience" that I think both Adam Frank and Eliezer are too quick to dismiss. Seeing a space shuttle blast off is inspirational, but as Eliezer correctly points out there's nothing private or especially religious about it.

Real religious experiences, the sort where you get one, say "Oh, I just saw God" and spend the rest of your life in a monastery trying in vain to capture that sense of connection again, are much more likely to be some very exotic neurological event. Consider for example the commonly remarked upon similarity of "trips" on entheogenic drugs, which we know are screwing with neurotransmission in some way, to mystical experiences.

This sort of a spiritual experience really is absolutely private and absolutely incommunicable. Those who have felt it describe it as a feeling completely alien to and much more powerful than any other feeling they've ever had - which seems completely plausible to me if it's really some sort of weird realignment of cognitive processes. How are you supposed to share or communicate a high-level reprogramming of your brain to someone else? How is a non-neurologist supposed to describe it in any terms other than what they've "experienced"?

This is a passage on Dhyana (a Sanskrit word transliterated into Japanese as "Zen", indicating an extremely high state of mystical achievement) by a certain famous yogi:

In discussing Dhyana, then, let it be clearly understood that something unexpected is about to be described. We shall consider its nature and estimate its value in a perfectly unbiassed way, without allowing ourselves the usual rhapsodies, or deducing any theory of the universe. One extra fact may destroy some existing theory; that is common enough. But no single fact is sufficient to construct one.

In the course of our concentration we noticed that the contents of the mind at any moment consisted of two things, and no more: the Object, variable, and the Subject, invariable, or apparently so. By success in Dharana the object has been made as invariable as the subject. Now the result of this is that the two become one. This phenomenon usually comes as a tremendous shock. It is indescribable even by the masters of language; and it is therefore not surprising that semi-educated stutterers wallow in oceans of gush.

All the poetic faculties and all the emotional faculties are thrown into a sort of ecstasy by an occurrence which overthrows the mind, and makes the rest of life seem absolutely worthless in comparison.

Good literature is principally a matter of clear observation and good judgment expressed in the simplest way. For this reason none of the great events of history (such as earthquakes and battles) have been well described by eye-witnesses, unless those eye-witnesses were out of danger. But even when one has become accustomed to Dhyana by constant repetition, no words seem adequate.

I doubt Adam Frank has ever had one of these experiences, but some of the people he reads have, and some of the people whom the people he reads read have, and he's taken them and misinterpreted them as equivalent to going to Newgrange and being inspired by it. I went to Newgrange once and thought it was pretty neat. I took hashish once and started seriously questioning the nature of mind and experience.

[note: I am not claiming that normal go-to-church-each-week religion is particularly related to this sort of "religious experience". That both of them are grouped together is more of a historical fact than an ontological one.]

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 March 2009 09:28:52PM 24 points [-]

Real religious experiences, the sort where you get one, say "Oh, I just saw God" and spend the rest of your life in a monastery trying in vain to capture that sense of connection again

I know an atheist who gets these. She used to think it was future superintelligences talking to her, but eventually she asked herself some very hard questions and managed to realize it was just a brain storm. It's one of the most heroic acts of rationality I've ever seen anyone perform.

But considering that some atheists do get these involuntarily and the vast supermajority of religious folk never get them at all, why call them "religious experiences"?

Comment author: Yvain 25 March 2009 10:02:41PM *  25 points [-]

But considering that some atheists do get these involuntarily and the vast supermajority of religious folk never get them at all, why call them "religious experiences"?

The explanation for this is in the same book from which I took the dhyana quote. I may write a post on it one day, although I worry that an explanation of mysticism by a possibly insane self-confessed magician is a little off-topic for this site.

The short version is that a dhyana experience is completely unconditioned, and the brain quickly sets about conditioning it with cultural experience. Anything that vast and that holy is assumed to be the most powerful entity in the culture of the person who experiences it, usually God. There's also some evidence that the dhyana experience can itself be conditioned by culture, in the same way that a paranoid suffering delusions of persecution for completely biological reasons may interpret it as demons in medieval Europe or the CIA in modern America. Just like the brain throws the label "the CIA" on what ought to be a general persecuted feeling, it throws the label "God", "Jesus", "Allah", "Buddha-nature", "Brahman", "future superintelligence", or whatever else onto what ought to be a general feeling of intense power. This isn't interpreted as a post-hoc attribution; just as the paranoid feels like it's the CIA after them, the Christian feels like they just saw Jesus.

That's what I meant by saying its association with religion was historical and contingent rather than ontological.

Comment author: Lee_A_Arnold 26 March 2009 02:34:58AM 31 points [-]

Yvain, a professor named Steven T. Katz argues that mystical states of consciousness are always culturally informed, although I personally believe that is incorrect.

The problem talking about this sacred stuff is that a higher state of consciousness is attainable, but the experience of is not rationally describable to people who haven't attained it. There is a severance of rationality that is necessary for the change in consciousness. So we get the Zen koans and the talking burning bushes. Yet the ability to use the tools of rationality re-enters after complete attainment. That is the meaning of “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.” Religious theologies are almost entirely composed of attempts to describe, using the scientisms of their olden days, the conditions in the universe that would explain all of this.

Then, a new circumstance entered. Since the Enlightenment, i.e. over the last 300 years or so, religious institutions have lost the esoteric meaning of theology, and both established religion and science became almost entirely ignorant of the existence of a higher state of consciousness. Or else they call it “hallucinations,” etc. Only very recently has science started to raise questions, largely as a result of the comportment of some psychedelic experience with descriptions from the mystical paths of the Eastern religions. So we will get better descriptions as science starts to investigate. There are accidental and fleeting attainments (such as the girl who has the "brainstorms") vs. practiced and held attainments. This practice is called mysticism. (Zen is historically a mystic path out of Buddhism. Otherwise the mainstream religions have almost entirely eliminated any mention of their mystical practices -- even though these are the bases of their theologies!)

Notice I wrote “some” psychedelic experience. A real problem for scientific analysis via psychedelics is that many or most people who have taken psychedelics believe they have had the full experience, but they have not. This is exhibited in some comments here, and all over the internet, all the time.

For example, most people don't know the following: there are NO hallucinations in the final state. In fact, final transcendence on psychedelics includes a complete return of all rational and calculative faculties. Go check the older clinical literature on this. (This is also indicated by the greatest religious mystics: Sankara, Buddhaghosa, John of the Cross.) Nowadays, most psychedelic users expect to see colored patterns or to get crazy drunk. It's dangerous, it’s debilitating, and it's a shame. One of the biggest mistakes was Tim Leary's promotion of LSD to the streets -- it would have been better to have kept it categorized as a psych med.

People shouldn't get the wrong idea about psychedelics. They are general brain amplifiers. Each session is very likely to be vastly different. One session is not indicative of the effect of the drug, although that is a common opinion. The first few trips can be painful and can even turn into bad trips. A beginner should only do it with a very experienced person who is a guide or a sitter. Psychedelics bring everything to the surface in an abreaction, by an order of occurrence that is specific to each individual, and which includes a lot of repressed memories that cause neuroses and body tics. Without a guide, you can hurt yourself, and you can also get the wrong idea about what is going on, as evidenced in comments all the time.

Back in the days when it was legal, the standard course of LSD psychotherapy was around 5 to 10 sessions, eyes completely covered with a blindfold for most of each session, with earphones piping in instrumental music without lyrics (usually classical.) These sessions were spread out over a year or more, with non-psychedelic therapy sessions in between. Among people who took this route, around 70 percent or so finally came to an "illumination," a full transcendent experience, and their descriptions are very close to those recorded by the great religious mystics. (And as with all the great mystics, there is no particular theological content, but rather a certain realization that all religions are in search of this same state of consciousness.) Cary Grant is a famous example of someone who realized he was a terrible egotist who hadn’t been living a full life, and threw away his day job: i.e. being a movie star.

The best two books on the subject are both by Stanislav Grof: Realms of the Human Unconscious (1975) and LSD Psychotherapy (1980).

But now, most users ruin their value as psych meds or "sacraments." As mentioned above, a lot of people think you can experience it “all” in one session. This never actually happens, and it can actually damage you. You can have a "cosmic" experience -- but it will be without abreacting all of the repressed material in your life, which takes a lot of clock-time to do -- and then you can be more or less stuck in that ego-situation throughout subsequent trips. This is epistemologically hazardous and may lead to a life of related misunderstandings. We all know the case of the insufferable old hippie who tells everybody how to run their lives: a typical casualty.

Another big mistake is taking the early trips without blocking off the outside, so then your environment triggers visual and aural hallucinations. This is enormously counterproductive because it impels you away from necessary introspection, and then you get stuck in that mind-set, and it has reduced many a person’s understanding of psychedelics to "party drugs." Rationality won’t even re-enter, here.

But what can you gain rationally from a real and COMPLETE mystical, “sacred” experience, with or without psychedelics? In essense, there is no change in the tools of analysis, but synthetical ability and the license to creativity are greatly improved.

There is no difference at all in the analytics: splitting, counting, weighing, mathematics all remain the same (although, like the mystic Brouwer, you may come across a new idea of what mathematics is.) It also won't make you a more talented artist, although it can release you from deeply buried and unsuspected inhibitions, to develop your talent. Many people think that there is at least a slight increase in IQ although I am not sure that a full study has ever been done. But there is a known improvement to the synthetic integration of rationality, and some of those people already disposed to having scientific talent are led to reintegrate knowledge beginning from the current historical level of analytic understanding. There are a fair number of self-identified examples. Kary Mullis is one. Psychedelic use was reportedly widespread throughout the early Bay Area / Silicon Valley computer community. Among known historical examples of creativity initiated by a reported mystical state, Descartes is an astonishing case of creative invention and synthesis at the level of primary symbolic understanding.

Comment author: gwern 13 August 2012 09:36:05PM 6 points [-]

But what can you gain rationally from a real and COMPLETE mystical, “sacred” experience, with or without psychedelics? In essense, there is no change in the tools of analysis, but synthetical ability and the license to creativity are greatly improved.

If you were experimenting with LSD doses or micro-doses, how would you operationalize and measure something as vague sounding as 'synthetical ability'?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 August 2012 09:53:56AM 2 points [-]

I've taken acid a few times-- not under such careful conditions-- and my experience was that I saw visual hallucinations much more when my eyes were closed than when they were open.

Comment author: zslastman 13 August 2012 07:16:44PM 1 point [-]

This post is strongly reminiscent of the little that i've read form Eckhart Tolle.

Isn't the dhyana experience the kind of thing you're supposed to pass through, rather than dwell on, on your way to Zen enlightenment?

Comment author: Capla 31 December 2014 12:42:23AM 0 points [-]

You know, I need to reread A New Earth to make sure it still holds up, but I think humans in general, but especially rationalist can benefit greatly from it. I think I might make it "required reading" for my associates.

The theme of non-attachment is sort of the more general form of the second virtue.

Comment author: achiral 17 July 2012 02:11:34PM 1 point [-]

This is one of the most informative posts I've ever seen on less wrong. I've always found it strange that the one technology that rationalists seem to shy away from is the technology of the sacred - that is, entheogenic plants and chemicals.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 December 2009 10:42:43PM 5 points [-]

This notion of "dhyana experience" as completely unconditioned sounds suspiciously modernized-religious to me. According to the sadly-former-atheist John C. Wright, when he gets these hugely powerful "religious experiences", he gets the Trinity - yes, the good 'ol fashioned Trinity - talking to him directly.

Comment author: Yvain 18 December 2009 10:51:40PM 10 points [-]

From above:

This isn't interpreted as a post-hoc attribution; just as the paranoid feels like it's the CIA after them, the Christian feels like they just saw Jesus.

Another example: in sleep paralysis, many people report seeing demonic type figures. Although I haven't been able to find any explicit evidence, I've seen suggestions that the exact variety of demon depends on the sleeper's expectation. For example, Chinese see something like a classic transparent ghost, Hmong see a tiny child-like figure, and Americans see stuff like typical horns-and-tail demons or typical pointy-hat type witches.

The mental "stimulus" in sleep paralysis doesn't have any features - it's just a general feeling of fear, unreality, and oppression. But the sufferer does see a demon or monster with the culturally appropriate features.

So it's not contradictory to say both that dhyana itself is an "unconditioned" experience, and that individual experiences of dhyana can be detailed - although there may be many different types of emotionally powerful hallucination and "unconditioned" may be too vague to be a useful word.

Comment author: mattnewport 18 December 2009 11:01:29PM 7 points [-]

I'm a little skeptical of this claim. When I've experienced sleep paralysis I've imagined seeing a non-supernatural human intruder but all I actually saw was a vaguely human shaped shadow which for some reason in the confused half-asleep state of sleep paralysis seems highly likely to be an ill-intentioned intruder rather than a shadow. People with a different cultural expectation might claim to have 'seen' a demon but I don't think that should necessarily be interpreted as them having had a detailed hallucination, just that an ambiguous and threatening presence is assumed to be whatever strikes them as the most likely thing to be hanging around threateningly if indistinctly.

Comment author: taryneast 27 February 2011 09:21:40AM 4 points [-]

Just to add to the pot - I've experienced it only twice, but both times I experienced no hallucinations at all. The first time, the room was dark and I knew there was "something out there" waiting to get me and I had to switch on the light to see it, but couldn't move. The second time there was nothing, but I was terrified anyway. Both times I managed to wake myself up (eventually).

I can quite imagine, however, that our dreaming mind might try to put a face on the stalking horror. Given you're already asleep and just out of REM state, there's no surprise in extra visual hallucinations here - and of course they'd be relevant to your own cultural experiences.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 March 2012 09:15:37PM 0 points [-]

Just to add to the pot - I've experienced it only twice, but both times I experienced no hallucinations at all.

Me neither, except for the digital clock reading absurd times. (No, I hadn't read this when that happened.)

Comment author: AspiringRationalist 14 August 2012 01:54:33AM 0 points [-]

I experienced this as well as a small child. Incidentally, my alarm clock at the time looked a lot like the one in the XKCD comic.

Comment author: Meryseshat 01 December 2010 12:22:12AM 3 points [-]

I agree. When I've experienced sleep paralysis, I've rarely seen anything much at all other than distortions of the appearance of the room. What I get instead is a buzzing noise and a sense of vibration through my body, and then my body feels as if it's being tossed around the bed in impossibly rapid circles by some kind of evil force. I've never culturally heard of any experience like it. It certainly has the sense of oppression and evil, but there's nothing about it that sounds like any kind of mythology I've ever heard in my culture or another.

Comment author: mattnewport 01 December 2010 10:49:34PM 1 point [-]

According to this article a sense of vibration and rapid acceleration of the body are fairly commonly reported (I don't recall experiencing these symptoms myself). That article and the Wikipedia entry both mention some of the mythology and folklore surrounding the experience from different cultures.

Comment author: Yvain 21 December 2009 02:26:33AM 1 point [-]

Never having had sleep paralysis, I bow to your superior expertise on the subject.

Comment author: khafra 15 October 2010 03:22:52PM *  6 points [-]

I used to have occasional sleep paralysis, starting very young. I remember seeing shadows and hearing noises, then having them quickly gain resolution until I was actually hearing whispering and walking, and seeing something between a traditional western demon and an oni mask. Years later, before I learned not to sleep on my back but after I had a more materialist outlook, I would notice the process of forming images and usually be able to mentally halt the pareidolia.

I can easily believe that a more powerful such process would leave the formative steps imperceptible, especially to someone who had no experience.

Comment author: RomanDavis 14 August 2012 04:30:06AM 0 points [-]

I've never seen anything when I have sleep paralysis, but I have had the feeling of malevolent presence and, once, a voice that made me very afraid.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 02 March 2012 11:50:50AM *  8 points [-]

According to the sadly-former-atheist John C. Wright, when he gets these hugely powerful "religious experiences", he gets the Trinity - yes, the good 'ol fashioned Trinity - talking to him directly.

This would seem to be some weird levels-of-abstraction confusion: the Father and the Son can influence you through the Holy Ghost (qui ex Patre Filioque procedit), but claiming the Trinity as a whole is talking to you seems to me to be double-counting evidence.

Comment author: Nebu 07 April 2009 07:39:13PM 15 points [-]

But considering that some atheists do get these involuntarily and the vast supermajority of religious folk never get them at all, why call them "religious experiences"?

Perhaps the same reason we call the game "Chinese Checkers" despite not being from China and not a variant of checkers: someone called it that, and the name stuck, and it's "too late" to change it now.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 02 March 2012 11:37:47AM 4 points [-]

I know an atheist who gets these. She used to think it was future superintelligences talking to her, but eventually she asked herself some very hard questions and managed to realize it was just a brain storm. It's one of the most heroic acts of rationality I've ever seen anyone perform.

What was the deciding factor?

(I can only imagine this playing out as a comparison of not-particularly-well-founded prior probabilities for "gods are communicating with me" versus "mundane brain malfunction", which I think of as in practice being a matter of Copycatesque instrumentalish rationality ("what interpretation scheme would help me integrate these experiences such that they bear pragmatic fruit?") rather than epistemic rationality as such. 'Cuz basically you have no other choice than to pull inductive biases out of your local subculture; it's simply too difficult to reliably engage in successful hermeneutics on your own.)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 March 2012 05:21:22PM *  14 points [-]

If another data point helps: when I experienced a version of this after some traumatic brain injury, I basically asked myself "What's more likely? That what I'm experiencing actually corresponds in some relevantly isomorphic way to a distal stimulus that existed prior to my injury, but which I didn't previously notice for some as-yet-unknown reason? Or that what I'm experiencing doesn't correspond to any relevantly isomorphic event, and I'm experiencing it primarily as a consequence of my brain injury?" (I wasn't anywhere near that precise in my formulation of the question at the time, of course.)

One major deciding factor for me was that I was at the same time experiencing other novel perceptions, none of which seemed to have much to do with one another if I interpreted each of them as evidence of actual events I was accurately perceiving, but which allowed for a common explanation if I interpreted them as evidence that I was hallucinating. And, of course, another major deciding factor was believing that brains had a lot to do with constructing perceived experience, and were capable of doing so in the absence of isomorphic distal stimuli.

I mean, it was certainly possible that all of my perceptions were accurate and I really was being Called to Prophecy by Beings from Beyond the Veil of Unknowing, and also that my arm was no longer physically attached to my shoulder despite remaining under my control, and also that etc. etc. etc. But it seemed more likely that these apparently unrelated perceptions that began after my brain injury were connected to that injury in non-trivial ways.

But of course you're right that culturally primed priors play a huge role as well. If I'd remained strongly embedded in the Orthodox Jewish community I was raised in, for example, I might have found it equally plausible that all of those experiences were being sent to me by YHVH, or that the most mysterious-seeming of them (the Call to Prophecy) had a different explanation than the others.

And, of course, that whole line of reasoning would have been completely unavailable had I not been aware of the brain injury in the first place, and/or had the only novel perception been the Call to Prophecy.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 March 2012 02:28:45AM 2 points [-]

That was really interesting, thanks. I've read that God usually calls to prophecy those who are least likely to interpret the call for what it is because they are meek and self-doubting. Did this factor into your considerations? Also, paranoid schizophrenic that I am, I would have toyed with the hypothesis that God chose to talk to me when my brain was damaged because the brain damage and its non-spiritual effects act as a form of plausible deniability (because it seems that the gods, if they exist, are obviously trying to be somewhat coy about it). Did this factor into your considerations? (It seems like it may have at some point because of your sentence "or that the most mysterious-seeming of them (the Call to Prophecy) had a different explanation than the others".)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 March 2012 03:10:11AM *  10 points [-]

The idea that there was a genuine external communicator (whether Divine or otherwise) that was deliberately seeking out brain-damaged or otherwise unreliable recipients didn't occur to me. Thinking about it now, my reaction is mostly to tell those hypothetical communicators to go fuck themselves.

The meek and self-doubting thing didn't occur to me, either.

In general, the alternatives to "I'm hallucinating" I considered were all variations on "I am now able to perceive things I wasn't previously able to perceive" rather than "something that previously was able to communicate with me but chose not to is now choosing to communicate with me".

For example, I did toy with the idea that the trauma had fortuitously opened up some psychospiritual channel, perhaps by shutting off some part of my brain that ordinarily either blocked my ability to receive such signals or caused me to forget them or whatever... that's a pretty common trope in fantasy fiction as well. I also toyed with the idea that having my ordinary perceptions screwed with made me more receptive to noticing novel isomorphic-to-reality patterns as well as the novel non-itr patterns I was demonstrably noticing... like the way taking acid might make me less succeptible to certain optical illusions or cognitive biases.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 March 2012 03:39:40AM 1 point [-]

Thinking about it now, my reaction is mostly to tell those hypothetical communicators to go fuck themselves.

Ha, that's my first reaction too, but "He trolls us because He loves us." I think He's sort of a bastard but I can't help but smile at His jokes despite that; He's a lot like reality in that way. (One of my friend's interpretation of the story of Job is roughly 'reality is allowed to fuck with you, but you must still love reality, you're never justified in turning your back on reality, and if you stay faithful to reality then you'll likely be rewarded but being rewarded isn't the point'. In the same vein, "I don't like YHWH, but that's not the point: I love Him and I fear Him.")

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 March 2012 04:06:19AM 4 points [-]

Sure, I'm acquainted with the argument. Personally, I've never found it compelling. Even if I assume that there was a deliberate communicator, be it YHWH or Gharlane of Eddore or whatever, I'm content to let it go about its business without my love.

As for fear, well, it doesn't really take much to inspire me to fear. I'm a relatively frail life form.

Comment author: DSimon 03 March 2012 04:58:15AM 0 points [-]

What does "stay[ing] faithful to reality" mean?

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 March 2012 06:36:07AM 8 points [-]

It's similar to staying faithful to someone you love, e.g. a wife or a good king. Caring about the way the world really is even if the world is really painful. Not flinching away from reality because it tells you something you don't want to hear, not rebuking reality because it dares to disagree with you, not resenting reality because it seems unjust. Not replacing reality with a fantasy because you're bored or because you want to escape. Not gerrymandering the definition of what counts as staying faithful to reality. Like Eliezer's "something to protect". It's something that binds you to reality and keeps you from going out and identifying with a lot of stupid hypotheses and having sex with tons of chicks and getting STDs or delusions or whatever. (Note that going on dates with a lot of ideas is great, but you shouldn't have sex with every idea you come across.)

Comment author: Raemon 21 April 2012 02:49:01AM *  1 point [-]

I really like this framework. In particular, the interpretation of Job that goes with it. I may want to use them as part of this year's Less Wrong Solstice gathering, if that's okay with you.

Comment author: timtyler 16 December 2009 11:25:15PM 2 points [-]

Because of their historical association with religion and religious practices, I figure. Drugs are probably the most common way of producing such experiences these days - but drugs produce all kinds of other experiences as well, so naming them after that would not be very specific.

Comment author: timtyler 26 March 2009 07:16:46PM 0 points [-]

Mystical experiences are often associated with religion - since religious tradtions invented - and are are still associated with - the technology that is often used to produce them.

E.g. see: "Yoga the Technology of Ecstasy: George Feuerstein."

Comment author: ciphergoth 25 March 2009 01:22:02PM 7 points [-]

I've heard it said that taking hallucinogens can help with deconversion for exactly this reason.

Comment author: r_claypool 09 June 2011 08:51:25PM 1 point [-]

That's interesting. I'd like to know how likely it is true. Are there any sources beyond hearsay?

Comment author: ciphergoth 10 June 2011 07:07:18AM 0 points [-]

I only have anecdotes from friends to go by.

Comment author: Annoyance 25 March 2009 01:35:54PM 4 points [-]

"I took hashish once and started seriously questioning the nature of mind and experience."

That's wonderful... but is there any particular reason why you couldn't have done the same with a cup of coffee?

Was it something special about the hashish experience, or merely that it was so novel that it caused you to pay a lot of attention to it? What if you paid that much attention to the things you consider mundane and banal?

Comment author: Yvain 25 March 2009 05:29:56PM *  26 points [-]

There's a risk here of using "mundane experience" as an applause light.

Consider the equivalent query - doctors have learned a lot about the brain by studying stroke victims. For example, one reason we know that the frontal cortex is responsible for inhibition is because people who get frontal cortex injuries lose their inhibition.

You can go up to a neurologist and say "That's wonderful...but couldn't you have learned the same thing if you really closely observed the brain of a normal person?" But why should the neurologist deny himself a useful tool just because it's not mundane enough?

You can learn arbitrarily much by contemplating everyday life. Eliezer theorizes that a superintelligence could deduce General Relativity just by watching an apple fall. But that doesn't mean you should turn your nose up at Einstein for using the perihelion of Mercury. There's no such thing as cheating in rationalism.

Comment author: billswift 25 March 2009 02:50:35PM 1 point [-]

Good point. I would go so far as say most problems people get into, especially cognitive, seem to be caused by their not paying attention to reality, as opposed to the inside of their heads. I suspect that even most cognitive biases could be worked around much more effectively if people would just pay attention to what is really happening.

Comment author: infotropism 25 March 2009 07:32:53PM 6 points [-]

Mysteriousness. I do not agree with this point as it is made. I can reconcile what I believe with the idea I think I see behind your point; but I may be wrong.

I do not agree with that because it seems to me you are implying that mysteriousness is always an excuse, without any other use. I think it is possible to genuinely want to answer questions, and dissolve mysteries as they appear, but to at the same time acknowledge the existence of as of yet non resolved ones.

I don't know if we will ever solve all interesting, non trivial mysteries, but I hope that our fun space isn't closed. What I believe will have precious little effect on what is, but, meanwhile, since I do recognize that there's always going to be something beneath my horizon, to be discovered, I can generalize a concept of mysteriousness, the things that I haven't seen yet, that will agreeably surprise me, and which I may even, perhaps, never see.

That feeling is a bit like that of a child who knows he's been bought a present, but doesn't know what it will be.

But it's more too. I'd rather have a world where I know I will never exhaust the possibilities of my fun space, where I do not have to pick every last little crumb of fun, however unpalatable, because there's nothing else new left for me to appreciate. I want a world where I actually know that portions of my fun space will never be explored, because that space is larger than what I'll ever explore. Portions where there could be anything.

For those portions, I think it'd be appropriate to have such a feeling of "sacred mysteriousness". Please note, however, that what I have described may not be totally similar to mysteriousness as it is expressed by, say, religious people. But, once again, I find it hard to believe that my feelings about that would be so different from those of other people - we do possess the same brainware, yes ?

Apart from that, I do agree with most of what you wrote. I think it'd be more work to salvage whatever could be salvaged, in religion, sifting through the huge mass of stuff we won't want, than to rebuild sacredness and other great feelings, from scratch.

One last thing, though, about religion. After having discussed with a religious person, she gave me to understand that her religion, and belief in God, acted like a sort of patch, for her mind. That's an idea that seems to make some sense. I don't think the human mind is necessarily very stable, complete of flawless, as it's only been kludged together by evolution.

As such, it may be that it is possible to make it work better in some situations by applying the right; dirty hack to it. Religion could be one such hack. It sure has unpleasant side effects, but maybe the idea of a God-shaped-hole in the human mind has a very practical meaning. And maybe the hole isn't exactly God shaped, but maybe God fits well enough in it. A bit like an agonist, binding to the hole, while not being specifically, perfectly shaped to it.

Comment author: steven0461 25 March 2009 08:15:24PM 3 points [-]

I don't know if this point has been made, but if your uncertainty about a phenomenon's awesomeness is dominated by a fat tail of extreme awesomeness, then usually more knowledge will make it seem less awesome.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 25 March 2009 10:33:46AM 19 points [-]

Eliezer: All the ways that you don't think that religion is entirely wrong, I think that you simple label those as "not religion" and imagine them to be "human universals" possibly after some "extrapolation of volition".

Also, isn't the science fiction about human space colonization on which your sense of space shuttles as sacred truly and entirely wrong? When I see a space shuttle... well... it's like seeing a pyramid, a Soviet factory, or some other weird monument of sincere but stupid strategic error that partially invalidates the ocean of tactical correctness that it consists of.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 March 2009 11:03:27AM 15 points [-]

It is difficult for anything to be entirely wrong. Stupidity is not reversed intelligence. The question is whether you should drink from the old cup or start over. For this, a few examples of subtle poison really ought to be enough.

Re: Space shuttles: I know that, but they get to me anyway. Apparently the sacredness of space shuttles is not something that this particular truth about them can destroy. Sort of like a baby taking its very first steps and falling over. It's not going anywhere for a while, but so what.

Comment author: Annoyance 25 March 2009 01:40:35PM 2 points [-]

"It is difficult for anything to be entirely wrong."

No, it really isn't. If you also consider those things which don't rise to the level of coherence necessary to be wrong, it's even easier.

Comment author: alvarojabril 25 March 2009 02:00:00PM *  1 point [-]

Excellent second point, Michael, this is essentially what I was getting at below.

Eliezer, are we to assume from your final comment that the "baby steps" you're taking are a means to eliminate the feeling of the sacred from your life? Otherwise I don't get the baby metaphor.

I remember an interesting Slate article about the vagus nerve and the feeling of the sacred. I can't speak to the science behind it, but I think there's an interesting relationship between the notion of the sacred and AnnaSalamon's excellent "Cached Selves" post. Don't we then have a responsibility to actively avoid the feeling of the sacred?

Comment author: arundelo 25 March 2009 03:13:03PM 8 points [-]

I think he meant that a baby's first steps are sacred even though they're not impressive qua steps.

Comment author: timtyler 25 March 2009 03:38:20PM 0 points [-]

More like: religion is a thick soup. Picking out the good bits has its attractions - compared to trying to make your own soup.

Comment author: Annoyance 25 March 2009 01:39:30PM 7 points [-]

To what degree does people's reverence towards space shuttles consist of admiration for complex human endeavors, and to what degree is it simple awe at something large, fast, noisy, and bright?

I rarely hear of people talking about their spiritual experiences upon considering major human accomplishments that are modest and unassertive in their sensory effects, but often come across people gushing about meaningless or even wrongheaded things that are sensational or assertive.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 26 March 2009 01:06:43PM 7 points [-]

Does physics count? Or certain mathematical discoveries? Those are highly abstract and non-sensory but seem to be major spiritual triggers.

Comment author: Annoyance 26 March 2009 07:34:08PM 0 points [-]

I would recognize those as valid. In my experience, it's the realization of just how wide-reaching and powerful the implications of certain findings are that triggers the experience.

If it's just a reaction to 'large', at least it's conceptual large rather than physical.

Comment author: steven0461 26 March 2009 07:55:48PM *  4 points [-]

As another piece of evidence, people are awed by space, not because it's particularly interesting, but because "billions and billions".

Comment author: orthonormal 26 March 2009 01:07:42AM 7 points [-]

Higher mathematics? Many-Worlds Interpretation? GEB? Evolutionary psychology? These things don't have massive direct sensory stimuli, but have all sent chills of awe down my spine at some point.

Comment author: steven0461 25 March 2009 01:43:28PM 22 points [-]

space shuttles = monster trucks for intellectuals

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 March 2009 08:43:15PM 3 points [-]

I'd like to hear about these modest unassertive major human accomplishments.

Counterexample: SpaceShipOne that won the X-Prize was not nearly as big and flamey as a space shuttle, but watching it was a more powerful experience because of what it meant.

Comment author: steven0461 25 March 2009 08:46:53PM *  2 points [-]

Do people feel awe at the Internet? Toilets?

SpaceShipOne that won the X-Prize was not nearly as big and flamey as a space shuttle, but watching it was a more powerful experience because of what it meant.

To you, or to people in general?

Comment author: pre 25 March 2009 08:54:12PM 4 points [-]

Do people feel awe at the Internet?

Totally. The communications network is the biggest machine ever built, it's parts are all replaceable without damaging the whole. Maybe you're too young to remember a time before it, but I found it at university nearly two decades ago and I was certainly awestruck.

Toilets?

Not so much. But then I did see a documentry about the building of the London sewerage system, the way the rivers were all paved over and turned into underground tunnels, connected by miles upon miles of underground canals. Which has lasted for a couple of hundred years!

A toilet might not be a massive engineering feat, but the sewer system in a whole city sure is.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 March 2009 09:26:37PM 4 points [-]

And if I recall correctly, they built the system to beat a cholera epidemic which had been localized to the septically tainted water supply by one of the first medical statisticians. The Day the Universe Changed does a great job of making you feel that moment of awe. Dun... dun dun dun... dun DUN dun...

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 March 2009 02:34:06PM *  2 points [-]

Joseph Bazalgette, engineer of the London sewers, is a real hero! Curiously, his great-great-grandson Peter Bazalgette produces sewage for a living.

Comment author: steven0461 25 March 2009 09:43:45PM *  1 point [-]

Now you're saying they're awesome because they're big. The point was to find examples of things that are awesome even though they aren't big.

Comment author: pre 25 March 2009 09:52:34PM *  3 points [-]

Oh, then microchips? Writing "IBM" in individual atoms with a scanning electron microscope? Nano-motors for nano-machines? Richard Hammond was on the TV the other week with a probing scanning electron microscope writing his name on a strand of hair. Awesome.

Comment author: timtyler 25 March 2009 01:47:50PM 8 points [-]

Re: Adam Frank's book is about the experience of the sacred. I might not usually call it that, but of course I know the experience Frank is talking about. It's what I feel when I watch a video of a space shuttle launch; or what I feel - to a lesser extent, because in this world it is too common - when I look up at the stars at night, and think about what they mean.

Dawkins seems to think that too. However, I severely doubt it.

IMO, the most obvious way for a rational agent to gain insight into religious experience - without all the training and rituals - is to take a stiff dose of LSD.

Looking at the reports of those who have tried this, it blows feelings of scientific awe totally out of the water.

Scientists - like Dawkins - who seem to think that the experiences associated with scientific awe are remotely comparable to full-blown religious experiences are a bit of a joke to those in the know.

Comment author: timtyler 25 March 2009 02:08:25PM 8 points [-]

Sam Harris offers his testimony on this topic 35 minutes into:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2089733934372500371

Assuming that scientific awe is comparable to religious experience is a big mistake. It signals not having had any full-blown religious experiences - which is something that typically makes people poorly placed to discuss the topic.

Comment author: pre 25 March 2009 03:28:13PM *  8 points [-]

And he's right I suppose, though of course most religious people don't have that "full blown religious experience" either. They just turn up and do the singing and the readings and the praying every week.

I guess it's ironic that I, an atheist, have indeed had that LSD 'religious' experience while my folks, who are Christian, almost certainly never have.

I tend to just call the LSD/DMT thing 'hallucination' though, much to the chagrin of my more cosmicly inclined friends who insist the DMT thing proves we're all one and that god loves us.

Comment author: timtyler 25 March 2009 04:29:37PM 2 points [-]

Care to quantify the difference - on a scale of awesomeness? Which made you say "oh my god!" more - and how much more often?

Comment author: pre 25 March 2009 04:49:32PM *  11 points [-]

The difference between Scientific Awe and LSD hallucinations?

Um okay. Lots of subjectivity here of course.

Scientific Awe is a pleasure of epiphany, of real understanding, of seeing how things fit, while LSD's awe is (for me at least) combined with a whole bunch of confusion and strangeness. It feels more intense, that yes! I grok it! is greater, and yet I'm never quite sure what it is that I grok. Explaining it into a Dictaphone just produces lots of rambling nonsense about unity and the connection of all things, including ideas, to each other.

The LSD thing will give you more ooomph, more intensity and certainty, as opposed to actual genuine scientific understanding which is of course always tempered by the other questions that understanding tends to bring up. You understand X but then that leads to the question "but why does X work that way?"

LSD is more emotional, more intense, and probably gives the "oh my god" response more, it's more surprising, more sudden, more physical. It isn't so tempered with new questions, perhaps because it doesn't actually explain anything, so the feeling that it's complete is perhaps the advantage. It leaves you feeling sated rather than curious.

Or did you mean the difference between LSD hallucinations and DMT hallucinations?

DMT is much sorter, minutes rather than hours, the bending of time and space in the visual field less intense, but the subjective feeling of understanding (I think false understanding, but it's hard to remember that at the time) is much larger.

Probably LSD has made me say "oh my god" more often than DMT, if only coz I've done LSD so many more times and it lasts so much longer. Though DMT has thrown more friends off of the path, and onto that sated pan-theism they seem to indulge in.

Sex probably makes me actually say "oh my god" most, but there's certain amounts of communication required during sex that isn't needed when you're tripping ;)

(EDIT: I wrote a bit about what LSD taught me a few years ago elsewhere FWIW. Most of it I still agree with, though I hope I'd write it better now.)

Comment author: timtyler 25 March 2009 06:08:06PM 2 points [-]

Thanks. Yes, sex is awesome too - but we can't just count the OMGs there - because of signalling. I don't think I've seen anyone claim that scientific awe is as awesome as the awe of love and sex.

Comment author: pre 25 March 2009 06:40:51PM *  4 points [-]

Heh. Yeah, only two hits on google] for 'science is better than sex'.

I certainly have seen folks claim that LSD is better than sex of course. I've even been one of them at times. They're different enough that 'better' changes a lot in context though. Better for what? Certainly sex if better if you only have 90 minutes. LSD's more mind expanding though.

If I had to give one of them up, I'd give up LSD. If I had to pick one to have NEVER DONE, I'd pick sex.

Comment author: arundelo 26 March 2009 02:46:20AM 1 point [-]

only two hits on google for 'science is better than sex'.

On the other hand...

Comment deleted 25 March 2009 12:07:06PM *  [-]
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 March 2009 08:49:41PM 7 points [-]

This makes me wonder what I would do if someone who knew which drugs to take (hashish?) came back and reported: "As I confirmed with a couple of friends, if you take the following drug while reading the following posts you will have a tremendous transformative experience that makes you truly dedicated to rationality thereafter and completely able to take joy in the mundane universe."

Comment author: MichaelVassar 26 March 2009 01:12:10PM 1 point [-]

I'd go with the timeless physics and timeless causality posts.

Comment author: ciphergoth 25 March 2009 12:11:05PM 3 points [-]

I think you would end up just giggling and getting distracted, frankly!

Comment author: alvarojabril 25 March 2009 02:07:11PM 2 points [-]

My experience with psilocybin leads me to think few participants would be interested in blog-reading.

Comment author: alvarojabril 25 March 2009 01:33:51PM 2 points [-]

That which is significant in the Unfolding Story.

Isn't it possible that many of the flaws you've listed creep into your thinking in via the Unfolding Story? For instance, your Story is probably somewhat private in that if we were watching a space shuttle launch you'd find it sacred and I'd think it was a harbinger of space militarization. And obviously, the faith charge often comes up on this score when it comes to futurists.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 25 March 2009 01:07:03PM 3 points [-]

Religion... shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude; so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.

James might have meant something different by emphasizing solitude than what you take him to task for. He continues:

Since the relation may be either moral, physical, or ritual, it is evident that out of religion in the sense in which we take it, theologies, philosophies, and ecclesiastical organizations may secondarily grow. In these lectures, however, as I have already said, the immediate personal experiences will amply fill our time, and we shall hardly consider theology or ecclesiasticism at all.

The surrounding context is that of delineating the overall theme of the book. James wants to focus on the religious experience rather than the religious convention: church rituals, theological debates, Sunday school. Leaving the social institutions to sociologists, James pursues the psychological experience, including that raw feeling of sacredness you mention. I don't believe he insists on loneliness (Frank may be - I haven't read Frank), nor that loneliness is in any way important to him.

You ask:

Is the feeling private in the same sense that we have difficulty communicating any experience? Then why emphasize this of sacredness, rather than sneezing?

I think it may be because there aren't churches devoted to sneezing in special ways, dogmas of righteous sneezers, rituals of mass-sneezing and so on. It's possible to talk to someone about their sneezing problem (or, alternatively, their sneezing as a solution to many problems) without them parroting conventional truths about sneezing that they have internalized.

The solitude James speaks of is simply that of the internal dialogue with yourself. You may experience it together with many other people, indeed even standing in a crowd with them, and it need not be unique, but so long as you are alone with it in the confines of your mind, it is personal. Not unique, not even necessarily inexpressible - if James thought it were, his would have been a one-page book - but at its origin, intensely personal. Yours to experience, interpret, act upon and try to communicate as you wish. Yours alone. Yours - alone.

Comment deleted 25 March 2009 01:17:51PM *  [-]
Comment author: Annoyance 25 March 2009 02:20:24PM 1 point [-]

Because no matter how much I thought about it, I couldn't find a way in which the comment was a useful contribution to the site; rather, it seemed to be spam no matter which perspective I tried to view it in.

Crosslinking is potentially valuable - announcing that something from here has been crosslinked by you is not. If there's some important response elsewhere to a post made here, that is notable and worthy. Stating that you're trying to provoke such a response isn't.

Comment author: steven0461 25 March 2009 02:40:07PM 2 points [-]

I don't mind the crosslink but I agree it's probably better to wait until there's interesting responses at the other site.

Comment deleted 25 March 2009 04:36:30PM *  [-]
Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 25 March 2009 08:12:13PM 1 point [-]

I haven't read that forum, but "[somebody] on why we should abandon religion" doesn't sound like a very catchy title on an atheist forum. If I saw it, it probably wouldn't grab my notice. "Oh, I already know why we should abandon religion, I wouldn't be reading this forum if I didn't, now would I?" would be the unconscious evaluation, and by then my eyes would have moved to the title of the next topic already.

In general, I'd say that "[person] on [subject]" is only a good topic if you know that your subject audience already knows who the person is, otherwise it provides no information. Eliezer's certainly well-known among the transhumanist/singularitarian crowd, but among the general atheist crowd? I doubt it.

Comment author: ciphergoth 25 March 2009 05:13:11PM 1 point [-]

TBH I've never got particularly interesting discussions out of that forum, and I've tried quite hard.

Comment deleted 25 March 2009 05:50:47PM [-]
Comment author: Annoyance 26 March 2009 07:25:48PM -1 points [-]

Probably for the same reasons so many here are dismissive of Objectivists.

Comment author: steven0461 25 March 2009 08:34:42PM *  0 points [-]

Am I supposed to not have any feeling of sacredness if I'm one of many people watching the video of SpaceShipOne winning the X-Prize? Why not? Am I supposed to think that my experience of sacredness has to be somehow different from that of all the other people watching? ... Is the feeling private in the same sense that we have difficulty communicating any experience?

There are more possible explanations. E.g. replace the word "sacredness" with "arousal".

Comment author: Martok 13 April 2012 11:25:47PM 1 point [-]

All the arguments about mystery aside, the first few paragraphs seem to be from a completely different post about the Sacred Experience instead if Religious Foo.

I might not usually call it that, but of course I know the experience Frank is talking about. It's what I feel when I watch a video of a space shuttle launch; {...}

Leading up to:

Sacredness is something intensely private and individual.

Which is something I would strongly agree with. In my view, what this is saying is that the association of something being sacred is something that can only be created by the individual and is a private emotion, not something that can be conveyed as-is. Sure, you are able to describe it, but you should not expect the other party to have that same emotion. The other side of that would be that while an arbitrary number of people can regard the same thing sacred, but only by their own (subconcious) choice, not by being told that something is sacred. Standing in the Hagia Sophia may be a sacred thing or just cause admiration for the architects. Neither of those should be discarded, since it's about emotional response, not reasoning for anything.

Something that's reproducibly inducing that experience for me would be this video. You may try it (Big Screens help), and it may or may not do anything to you (besides impressively displaying scientific results; this is space, after all). I can't do anything about that, it's an individual experience. And regarding solitude... what could be more solitary than this very perspective from high above an entire planet?

I do realize that what I'm saying here sounds like "there's something that defies Rationality", but that what I'm trying to say. The idea is that it is a fragment of neural activity (and nothing more) that is something to be aware of, since it is something possibly affecting judgement. Apart from that, I don't see any actual reason for rational argument on this topic and also not for considering it evidence for anything by itself.

Comment author: Capla 31 December 2014 12:23:18AM *  0 points [-]

Take away the institutions and the factual mistakes, subtract the churches and the scriptures, and you're left with... all this nonsense about mysteriousness, faith, solipsistic experience, private solitude, and discontinuity.

I don't think so. I'm left with a resolve and a reminder to strive to be Christlike: to love my enemies, to always forgive, to never hold a grudge, to with complete willingness (this is hugely important!) give myself up to the service of others.

I've never found such radical dedication to the state of mind of constant, selfless serenity, regardless of the world around you, anywhere but in our spiritual traditions. That is worth preserving.

Actually, if anyone can point me to some "radical Goodness" that isn't couched in lies, I'd appreciate it.