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My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 4:04am

Does God speak to us? Who can say?

We all experience thinking as voices in our heads. When asked why he stifled parliamentary politics, Bismarck said he had so many voices arguing in his head he did not need to hear any more.

But apparently many people experience such voices audibly. Some hear them as God's commands, often to perform very specific tasks. In The New York Times this week, T. M. Luhrmann, an anthropology professor at Stanford University, reports that among evangelical churchgoers he has studied, a fair number have reported God having spoken, audibly, to them. There are such comforting messages as: "I will always love you."

More demanding ones include "Go start a school". And "Vote for [George W.] Bush". The person replied that he didn't even like Bush. To which God said: "I didn't ask you to like him."

Are these people crazy? Perhaps they are mildly schizophrenic. But to claim they are crazy, you have to make a lot of assumptions about the nature of voices in our heads. An obvious one is that there is no God. Of course, those evangelicals make lots of assumptions too in thinking they were reporting their experiences accurately.

I find these questions fascinating because they were decisively tackled in the 1976 cult classic The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by the late US psychologist Julian Jaynes. In it, he makes the seemingly absurd claim that people had no inward or subjective experiences - what he calls "mind spaces" - until about 3,000 years ago. Before that, people assumed the inner voices they heard were from outside of them - from gods, spirits or ghosts. Virtually all the evidence from anthropology and early literature Jaynes marshalled has been challenged or discredited. But his central claim is still an unanswered challenge: there is no logical or empirical reason to think the voices in our heads must be ours. Only the most extraordinary - and mysterious - revolution in human consciousness made us take possession of our innermost thoughts.

What prompted Jaynes to develop his bizarre theory? Apparently an audible voice he heard that told him: "Include the knower in the known!" He later said: "It lugged me to my feet absurdly exclaiming 'Hello?'."

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johnyuan
I prefer the words in the 10 Commandments – direct and simple. In fact darn primitive telling human how to live. They are still valid and don’t get in our way to live properly. There, it says God is everywhere, so why not in your head, ear, heart or soul or even underneath your bed? Here lies the potency of God for your constant attention. Confession is already a bit too late and yet more and more have taken it as a way to live in the absent moment of God. So as well as meeting your God only when is needed in a temple.
whymak
DOGMAS PART I
Mr. Lo, you have double bogeyed by equivocating twice on Democracy and religious faith.
As a student of history, I find strong evidence that entrenched ideological and religious dogmas will inevitably become the core value in a culture. Accepted by an unthinking majority, a dogma easily becomes a superstition and immune to challenge.
Nonsensical debate between faith and science arises because of their irreconcilable differences. Science advances our civilization because it upholds every working hypothesis to be validated by empirical data, which implies a falsifiable hypothesis. But ideological dogma is always absolute.
God of Abraham and Democracy defy man’s intellectual challenge to their dogmas. The central dogma of Democracy is universal suffrage.
Does universal suffrage produce better governance? There is little or no evidence. Suppressing every other political economics variable – ceteris paribus – produces an observation that democratic governments fail more often than they succeed. Worse, those well managed yesterday have now become dysfunctional. Besides, even democracies considered a success have too short a history, let alone the lack of empirical evidence.
Every dynasty goes from rise to decline. Unless one establishes another dogma exempting Democracy from this life cycle, this form of governance must inevitably decline. So far rising durations of many past dynasties have exceeded the history of modern democracy.
whymak
No argument from me that Man created God in his image.
You said, "Henceforth, the faithful could only hope to find God inside themselves – they have discovered inner life, and all the anguish that goes with it."
You might have missed the argument how the inner life continues to interact with the external world. When the external world fails to match Man's expectations, he withdraws and introspectively creates dogmas to explain away internal and external discrepancies. Or could he?
A combination of external physical acquisitiveness and internal self-righteousness is often a deadly mix. 120 years political and sectarian wars ensued. Man came to his senses with the Treaty of Westphalia.
But the dogma bugaboo never dies. It raises its ugly head and morphs into Democracy projecting power, pushing colonialism and human traf****.
As the dogmas of God who parted the Red Sea lost some appeal with the rise of science, God's attributes transmogrify into the dogmas of universal values of Democracy.
I can't say whether Man's freedom has improved. Freedom is largely a state of mind. For me, I don't have freedom until I could mentally challenge the dogmas. But is boundless freedom a good thing? That is a metaphysical question. All I know is my cultural identity constrains my preference and behavior. That has become my identity and being. Without it I cannot be happy.
So I am back to square one, agreeing that we may need either religion or identity constraint.
whymak
DOGMAS PART II
Judged empirically, Democracy has little credibility, let alone its universal suffrage dogma.
Ideas of Democracy are one thing, but proof of the pudding is in the eating. Even as I speak, many “successful” democracies are unraveling with telltale signs of extreme dysfunction and government gridlock.
The most plausible culprit lies in a dated absolute central dogma universal suffrage, which stands in the way of reiterative, scientific improvement of governance. Random opinions of masses are anathema to meritocratic individuals in government. A mathematical demonstration of this statement can be easily designed.
One must not throw the baby out with the bath water. By this I mean Enlightenment and Empiricism thoughts are still of great value when subject to the tests of field data.
Culture is most stubborn. Without the cultural constraints of Judeo-Christianity and Democracy, Greater China has the advantage of writing new governance on a tabula rasa. Western democracies are not so lucky. To rescue their governments from ossification, they need a cultural restructuring.
Absolute universal values and One True God are hindrances to progress because they need dogmas to defend them.
An Orthodox Jewish friend told me he would rather die than accepting the implantation of a mitral valve made from pig’s part. Christian Scientists refuse blood transfusion. Islamists fear post pubescent Muslim adolescents masturbating at the sight of a woman taking off her hijab.
Byebye
Few years ago, meeting some Christian friends in weekly Bible study, a "Christian" I hardly knew came over to me and said "God just spoke to me this morning, I saw your face. I like to say a prayer for you." Then the prayer centred that I was a sinner and God was praised for his love for me, the "Christian" then prayed for my marriage in such a way that as though my marriage was not working out, and then the "Christian" prayed that eventually my walk with God woud be fruitful and I would glorify God. I understand the proper prayer is according to the "Lord's Prayer" of the Bible. Somwhow some people decided to act like God?
johnyuan
Any political system that is capable of self-correcting should be treasured – but only if it is done in an orderly and peaceful way. That is to say all political system judging by past history all were capable of correcting or self-correcting of which we have revolution or democracy. The former is self-evident and inevitable but can be pretty bloody and the latter proves peaceful but pretty dysfunctional. We should build a political system to assure capability of self-correction yet without political gridlock and destructive residue as experience in the US. May be it is already here only we have not identify it as such.
whymak
All systems ranging from physical, biological (results of natural selection), to organizational, social and political ones, share linear and nonlinear characteristics. It sounds like a mouthful.
When you say self-correcting, it's about a system in stable equilibrium. When perturbed, the output(s) must not deviate much from required performance levels. However, when the parameters change dynamically as the system evolves, there is a risk that they drift outside the desired output. The system will then behave unpredictably.
The components of political economic systems are human beings. They are part of the system parameters. As the environment changes, humans adapt, i.e., the parameters change. At critical parameter values, system becomes discontinuous.
Here is my political economic theory. Although we don't know what the exact range of parameters should be in order to confine a system to operate in a safe linear region of stability, we must use available system information from past operations.
For instance, when Fed Chairman Greenspan claimed not knowing when a bubble would pop, I say nonsense. He framed the wrong issue. What he should ask is whether the system variables and parameters are close to critical levels like a canary in the coalmine. At that point he must act decisively and accept the consequences for making a potentially wrong but safe decision.
In a democracy, decision makers often don't have the luxury to make this call.
For China, not a problem.
alexloscmp
whymak,

As a trained physicist with a phd, you are too focused on objective phenomena. Great psychologists like freud and jaynes look at the subjective side of things, a perspective I know you are not accustomed to.

What you said about western democracy and religion may or may not be true. But what those great psychologists point to in monotheistic religions – only Christianity is kind of western; both Judaism & islam are “near east” – is something truly awesome.

Before monotheism, there were sky gods and earth spirits. After monotheism, the gods withdrew from the world. Henceforth, the faithful could only hope to find God inside themselves – they have discovered inner life, and all the anguish that goes with it. Only the faithful with inner life can doubt God’s existence & the foundation of their moral life; and so their constant battle with their faith – I mean the smart ones anyway. Before monotheism, if jaynes is right, the gods & spirits and voices were as real as physical chairs and tables and rocks.

BTW, that’s precisely why freud was a great atheist: he knows his enemies.

Alex lo
John Adams
Read "Paul and Jesus" by Prof James D Tabor
It seems to me that the whole of modern 'theological' Christianity was born in the mind of a man who never even met the real Jesus - but who nonetheless claimed he heard infallibly from God and considered what he heard to be an even more valid revelation than the experience of the 12 Apostles who lived, walked and heard directly from the real Jesus.
Galatians 1:12 & 1:8
chefcrsh1
Indeed so primitive as not to admonish rape, or require equality for all humans, or protection for children from the many injustices brought on by elders... All recent refinements that apparently didn't come from a god, but from reason.
johnyuan
Yes. For its most primitive interpretation seems most lacking.
 
 
 
 
 

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