Wednesday, September 15, 2010

269: Why do we believe in the supernatural?

Yesterday I was watching this picture viewer with a friend. It contains pictures I make of my Sl experiences with friends. At a certain moment the picture of Bergie showed up and the very second, that her picture appeared I received an IM…. yes from Bergie.

Isn't that odd ??!!! Do you recognize the experience? You are thinking of somebody and at that same moment the phone rings…..at the other end the person you were just thinking about.

We have great difficulty to believe that this is just coincidence… The psychologist Carl Jung even invented a word for this phenomenon (1920/1951): synchronicity.

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. To count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance.

It was a principle that Jung felt gave conclusive evidence for his concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious, in that it was descriptive of a governing dynamic that underlies the whole of human experience and history—social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

Here we are at the heart of our stand: when we read something like this… about synchronicity, we see the supersense at work. In other words, this is a supernatural concept, or to refrase that, it is scientific nonsense.

Why do people believe in things that defy the laws of nature? This cannot be pure ignorance. No….because many people say that they have proof for it. Just remember what I told you about my personal experience yesterday.


And yet there is nothing supernatural at work here. Such events we call coincidences, even tho we have trouble to accept that. Probably is our brain not properly equipped to deal with coincidences and is it inclined to see supernatural forces at work here.

This makes me think of the words by Bertrand Russell in his book "The problems of Philosophy" (1912):
"Philosophy, if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life."

Like the brain seems to have difficulty with handling coincidences, philosophy has difficulty with coming up with answers..

Maybe this is one of the reasons that our daily life is loaded with all kind of supernatural considerations. Small ones like "this can not be a coincidence!", while there is no causal relation between events. And big ones: all kinds of religious and esoteric beliefs.

The American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842 -1919) already noticed that a lot of people not only believe in the reality of existence but also in what is behind it or transcends it.

Something untangle, that is not directly observed by our senses. This 'more' eludes natural explanations. It is supernatural. In fact it is the basis of all religious beliefs.

Why are we so wiling to think in that way? A first explanation is that we are educated to think that way. Isn't it funny that we are first told that Santa really exists and when we get older they call you nuts if you still believe that.

But we have a point here… We were not born believing in astrology. We have learnt to believe in it. But that doesn't answer the question why we are so WILLING to participate in rituals and ceremonies.

An answer to that could be: there is something in it for us: by believing supernatural things we can participate in society. Beliefs unite people.

But if culture is the sole source of supernatural beliefs,then we have to stop telling our children all that supernatural nonsense and educate them with scientific thinking.

Or like Richard Dawkins writes in "the God Delusion" (2006): "If you feel trapped in the religion of your upbringing, it would be worth asking yourself how this came about. The answer is usually some form of childhood indoctrination."

There is another explanation for our WILLINGNESS to believe in the supernatural. Even if the main source would be only culture we are still left with the question WHERE emerged the first supernatural beliefs???

And an other anthropological observation is that many (isolated) cultures cherish all kinds of supernatural ideas and beliefs.

"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" is a sentence composed by Noam Chomsky in 1957 as an example of a sentence with correct grammar (logical form) but semantics that are nonsensical.

It shows that the grammatical structure is nor enough to communicate ideas. Ideas have to fit into an existing context to be understood. For a lot of people scientific ideas and explanations are hard to understand.

On the other hand supernatural explanations and ideas are way more easier to accept, it seems. Like the grammatical correctness of a sentence is not enough to give it a meaning, so is culture and education not enough to explain the meaning of the supernatural.

For that explanation we have to look at the design of our mind, which we will do next Thursday. Thank you.


The Discussion

[13:22] herman Bergson: If you have questions or remarks..plz geo ahead
[13:23] herman Bergson: Well I guess all was clear then ^_^
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: hmm interesting concept for sure this
[13:23] Beertje Beaumont: i'm not that fast in reading english..
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: everyone is looking at your pictures I would guess, Prof ㋡
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:24] herman Bergson: lol...you could be right Repose..
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: what you said in the beginning have also happened to me many times
[13:24] Quizzle Mode: Are these beliefs a way that people seek meaning in (or to) life? Is it that humans have a need to "make sense of the world"? and we fall to superstition when science doesn't or can't answer.
[13:24] Jozen Ocello: i like what you said about "Like the brain seems to have difficulty with handling coincidences, philosophy has difficulty with coming up with answers"
[13:24] herman Bergson: Oh YES Quizzle....
[13:25] herman Bergson: Absolutely...
[13:25] herman Bergson: We cant live with the unexplained...
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: aaa yes that can be a possibility too i guess
[13:25] herman Bergson: just look how we think about death,....
[13:25] Mickorod Renard: maybe we are victims of being a spiecies of crative minds
[13:25] Quizzle Mode: Recent studies in the US have shown students tend to be less religious as they learn more science and this is worrying some envangelical students, already some states teach intelligent design as science alongside biology and evolution.
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: hmmmm...is the world absurd then...throwing up a creature from its heart that so needs meaning, yet there being none inherent in that world?
[13:26] herman Bergson: we have difficulty to live with the idea that death simple means..it is over..
[13:26] herman Bergson: Yes Quizzle..I know...I'll get to creationism soon
[13:27] herman Bergson: Well Repose....
[13:27] Quizzle Mode: Repose, that comes back to the seach for what is meaning surely? if you cannot prove there is no meaning then surely you cannot argue from that position?
[13:27] herman Bergson: a fundamental question....
[13:27] Bruce Mowbray: Does philosophy attempt to "answer" science? -- for example, the quantum physics idea of "non-locality" -- which WOULD explain "synchronicity" through science.
[13:27] Bruce Mowbray: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Physics/?view=usa&ci=9780195144086
[13:27] herman Bergson: No Bruce....
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: Was just asking a question, me ㋡
[13:27] herman Bergson: philosophy asks questions....
[13:28] herman Bergson: And as Russell says...
[13:28] herman Bergson: as soon as we have a real answer the question moves to the realm of science
[13:28] Quizzle Mode: In ancient times many philosophers where scientists, maybe philosophy is more a branch of science than humanities?
[13:29] itsme Frederix: which is like metaphycis as another word for philosophy
[13:29] herman Bergson: I wouldnt agree to that Bruce...
[13:29] herman Bergson: The philosophical question comes first....then comes science...the body of knowledge
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: Ritual and religious behaviour seems to date back over a million years (to seeming ritual cannibalism among homo erectus as determined by bone studies)…whatever religion and supernatural belief are, their roots are deep and they must fulfill a very deep need in us
[13:30] herman Bergson: But what Quizzle said is more important...
[13:30] Quizzle Mode: isn't metaphysics a branch of philosophy in the way that algeba is a branch of math?
[13:30] itsme Frederix: I disagree strong Herman, science is just not all - or maybe all based on logistics but Wittgenstein "posphoned" an other sight
[13:30] herman Bergson: Yes REpose.....
[13:31] herman Bergson: I know Itsme....
[13:31] herman Bergson: But it is not our subject at the moment...
[13:31] itsme Frederix: in his opinion, science and logistics is more like a tautology
[13:31] herman Bergson: What we try to understand is where supernatural beliefs come from
[13:31] itsme Frederix: which makes sense
[13:32] itsme Frederix: as son as you know its (more or less) obvious
[13:32] herman Bergson: and Quizzle pointed at our need to give meaning to life...
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: 300 year of reasoned scientific thought is a light turned on upon our world...but it may take a good while to deeply affect the evolved habits of mind of our species
[13:32] Quizzle Mode nods in agreesment with Repose
[13:32] itsme Frederix: Herman I agree its not our subject but it was so who stated this doubtfull vision
[13:32] herman Bergson: Yes Repose...and that is where people like Dawkins come in...
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: Agree, Prof
[13:33] herman Bergson: In the God delusion he pleads for a world without religion....which menas a world without supernatural thinking...
[13:33] herman Bergson: Just imagine ...
[13:34] herman Bergson: when we are deprived of our supernatural ideas.....
[13:34] herman Bergson: and you relate that to giving meaning to life...
[13:34] herman Bergson: Philosophically an interesting situation
[13:34] herman Bergson: You could end up in existentialism as an answer for instance
[13:35] itsme Frederix: thats fast thinking ...
[13:35] Quizzle Mode: Or maybe rethinking God? a logical, moral God of Kant?
[13:35] herman Bergson: problem is Quizzle....that God belongs to the supernatural thinking...
[13:36] Quizzle Mode: surely there are arguments on both sides to prove and disprove God?
[13:36] herman Bergson: A lot of philosophers have tried to "proof " the existence of god....with no success
[13:37] itsme Frederix: I guess its more exact to say that the God idea is for some people a supernatural idea, like thunder is/was - and many ideas/intuition in childhood
[13:37] Quizzle Mode: We cannot argue from a point of no God (or otherwise) if we cannot prove he/it does not exist?
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: there is some thing i reward before about i think was called Intelligent Design, that we are so advanced that something MUST have created it , cant possibly be created by itself like that
[13:37] Jozen Ocello: that's an interesting way to see it, Quizzle :)
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: a modern god theory
[13:38] herman Bergson: Intelligent Design is also supernatural thinking...
[13:38] Quizzle Mode: (btw I do not believe in a God, but philosophy is not about arguing beliefs yes?)
[13:38] itsme Frederix: A lot of guys has tried to prove the non existense of God, how can you prove non-existence hats idiot
[13:38] herman Bergson: To prove the non existence is nonsense , in my opinion ^_^
[13:38] herman Bergson: But to proof the existence....
[13:38] herman Bergson: we have no scientific method what soever...
[13:39] herman Bergson: what are we investigating...
[13:39] herman Bergson: of what substance is ggod made...
[13:39] herman Bergson: and if he is not a substance in the natural way....
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: like a ghost or something
[13:39] herman Bergson: how do we happen to have knowledge about this non material substance???
[13:40] itsme Frederix: well ,we have knowledge about non-euclidian spaces
[13:40] herman Bergson: what method or sense did you use to obtain true knowledge about this non material substance?
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: The very word "God" is so nebulous it is unarguable without so precisely defining the term that the discussion becomes unproductive because of its specificity
[13:41] herman Bergson: True Repose
[13:41] itsme Frederix: Thats interesting - true knowledge as distinction from knowledge!
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:41] herman Bergson: dont play with the words Itsme^_^
[13:41] Jozen Ocello: i agree Repose... that is probably why when one says he/she believes in Santa, people will say s/he is crazy, but when one says he/she doesn't believe in God...
[13:41] itsme Frederix: retoric Herman
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: hehehe
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: yep
[13:43] itsme Frederix: serious, true knowledge might be science, and supernatural knowledge might exist also - well it look like existing in the brain
[13:43] herman Bergson: I dont agree Itsme...
[13:43] herman Bergson: I should have said..as I meant...certain knowledge....
[13:44] herman Bergson: true knowledge is a pleonasm....
[13:44] itsme Frederix: why did you use true knowledge then?
[13:44] herman Bergson: I apologize for my sloppy way of expressing myself ^_^
[13:44] itsme Frederix: np, I accept
[13:44] Repose Lionheart: oh, not heard of a pleonasm...google here I come ㋡
[13:45] Jozen Ocello: me too .. let me know when you find it Repose :)
[13:45] itsme Frederix: green grass, white snow
[13:45] herman Bergson: It means that you add an adjective to a noun that already implies the quality..
[13:46] Jozen Ocello: aaahhhh
[13:46] herman Bergson: for instance the expression black raven...
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: pleonasm is understood to mean a word or phrase which is useless, clich├ęd, or repetitive, but a pleonasm can also be simply an unremarkable use of idiom
[13:46] herman Bergson: a raven is always black...so you are saying too much...
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: yes, Prof ㋡
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: yep
[13:47] herman Bergson: Anyway....
[13:47] herman Bergson: Our discussion shows that we may expect interesting questions for the future...
[13:47] herman Bergson: touching very sensitive issues...
[13:48] herman Bergson: So...thank you for your participation today....
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor ㋡
[13:48] Jozen Ocello: thanks Prof and thanks everyone for the discussion :)
[13:48] herman Bergson: We'll discuss the Design of the Mind next Thursday...
[13:48] Jozen Ocello: look forward to that
[13:48] itsme Frederix: Herman, could you make a small addendum - the definition of knowledge as you take it?
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: aaa yes¨
[13:49] herman Bergson: in this project knowledge might be regarded to mean scientific knowledge , Itsme
[13:50] herman Bergson: I have no intention to begin a discussion on epistemological issues now :-)
[13:50] itsme Frederix: oke thx, that tells me the playground
[13:50] herman Bergson: good..^_^
[13:50] itsme Frederix: and most certainly I will (try to) respect your borders for knowledge
[13:51] itsme Frederix: thx and bye bye
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: this becomes more and more interesting
[13:51] herman Bergson: the epistemological issues have been discussed in detail in former projects..
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:51] herman Bergson: So in this project you have supernatural beliefs against scientific knowledge..
[13:52] herman Bergson: where knowledge can be regarded as formulated in falsifiable hypotheses
[13:53] herman Bergson: ok...
[13:53] herman Bergson: thnx again...class dismissed ^_^
[13:53] Bejiita Imako: aah
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: hehehe...hae to get to my rl school now ㋡
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: afternoon for me
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: see ya
[13:54] CONNIE Eichel: great class professor :)
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