Monday, January 22, 2007

postal scrotum: Gord on... everything

I've got too much to do, but lucky for me, Gord sent me a meaty missive for you all to chew on:


Thanks for the link. I'm glad you found my attack on Chopra to be interesting.

I'll be traveling over the next while, but I'll make sure to check back and see what you have to say about religion, materialism, science, and how they meet, clash, clatter, etc.

In terms of this snippet from your site:

There have been many attempts at describing the nature of the conflict/dialogue between science and religion. Some, like SJ Gould, would say that science and religion represent "non-overlapping magisteria," each pursuit confined to answering the questions only its methodology can answer. Others see science and religion, not as conflicting, but as pursuits occurring within an as-yet-unnamed larger paradigm. Still others view the matter in an almost Manichaean way, seeing science and religion as destined for eternal conflict, with only one side representing "the good" or "the right." I think a mature dialogue requires tolerance and patience on both sides. As you say above, Max, "No one should claim to have all the answers." The humility born of scientific skepticism and the humility born of religious virtue seem in line with that conviction.

I think one of the problems is that religion traditionally claims to have all the answers. For every question, religion has an answer. As time has passed and scientific investigation has led a more rigorous search for certain kinds of answers, lo and behold, we find that a lot of the answers offered in a literal sense in the past have turned out to be, well, basically hogwash. Extremists deny this, and mainstream religion backpedals to claiming it's a metaphor. Neither answer speaks to the fact that religious myths about, say, the origin of the world or of humans, or the mutation of, say, how we get sick, are far less effective in terms of real explanation than scientific explanations that are repeatably observable. That's not a reason to mock religionists, but it shoudl be enough to get them to question what they've been taught is literally true. I mean, if the age of the earth, and the reasons we get ill, and physical cosmology of the universe were all factually wrong, maybe other facts -- all the way up to the central claims made in various religions -- become equally questionable. Why should one believe that a man named Jesus was a deity, or that a man named Gautama had the key to spiritual freedom, just because it's been claimed as true? That might not be factually disputable, but many of the factual claims made by religious teachings and texts have been falsified by science, leaving behind a faulty track record, and even if that doesn't lead one to dismiss the idea of a divinity, it certainly ought to lead one to question the validity of those very human structures that have emerged over time, and which are actually very human in nature, very much like nations or businesses in certain ways.

I find it funny when people say that they've become "spiritual", as if they have some kind of characteristic that atheists don't have. Atheists have a sense of wonder, they have a feeling of gratitude for their existence, fear of the cessation of their own existence, silence in the face of unspeakable mysteries, and the whole shebang. I used to call myself "spiritual" in my early adulthood to soften the blow of my general rejection of religion. But it was a kind of self-defense, that's all. But I don't write less profoundly about the human condition (in my fiction), and musically nothing's fallen off since I've basically accepted an atheist stance.

As for Goswami's book, I'm sorry to say I've long ago thrown away any patience at all for people who try to use Quantum Mechanics to prove that souls, ghosts, ESP, and so on exist. We're at the point now where we pretty much know that these things don't exist. It'd be nice, and hell, I throw it into my fiction occasionally, but in real life, it's just not likely. The basis for that statement is that every case I've encountered in the past depended on some kind of non-falsifiable claim, or on anecdotal evidence. I know, my father remembered rushing home one day (for no apparent reason, except a feeling of urgency) when my mom fell down the stairs and needed to be helped up. I once consistently predicted seven random pairings of names writing on a deck of cards (and it was random, the deck was shuffled, so I wasn't just inconsciously counting cards from previous days when names were selected in this way). Except that maybe my teacher was messing with my head when he claimed I was guessing right.

A much better recommendation of a book -- one that I've recommended here before -- is Pascal Boyer's _Religion Explained_. It goes quite far to explain why certain types of religious notions have proved to be infectious among humans, while others just don't spread... and why even atheists "get" the ideas that they're rejecting.

In one segment of Dawkins' documentary _Root of All Evil_ -- a title he himself didn't want to use -- some fundamentalist diarrhea-brain starts telling him not to be arrogant. The guy who distrusts his own intuitions as much as he can manage, and relies wholly on observable, repeatable evidence for his knowledge, is more arrogant than the guy who thinks he knows the unseen, hidden, divine nature of the universe from reading a magical book? It's the height of irony, that.

Race and student reactions: some students say to me, "You're almost Korean!" in that way that reminds you that you're always going to be "not-Korean" (alarms and flashing lights) in the heads of almost everyone here. Students tell me that I know Korean culture well, and that's why they feel comfortable in my class. I think there may be an element of racialized thinking, but I also think the racialized thinking is part of the cognitive filter, or the intepretive filter, or whatever. They're comfortable. They ask themselves why, and grab the answer that seems most likely to them, and given the way race is made such a central defining characteristic here, it makes sense that many people would misattribute their comfort to your race, or, perhaps, a combination of race and family background.

And you can't ever discount family background. I realized at some point that while my French is horrible, I have inherited from my mother the Quebecois attribute of conversational interruption as a sign of engagement and paying attention. This is a big no-no in a lot of Anglo societies -- an outright sign of disrespect -- as I realized when I started figuring out why some people found it rude. But I feel a little like my mom -- if people wait their turn and talk, I find exchanges a little "cold fish"-like.

Whoops, I see that Charles made a lot of my point already. But it may be that who you are and what you are, on some deep level, actually do affect how you interact with your students. That maybe you have certain, very subtle approaches or nuances in how you interact with them that come from having had with a Korean family member? That might well be a small part of the mix, where the main issue is that racialized interpretation is likely going on.

As for your pole not rising, man, don't worry about it. Sometimes a pole doesn't rise, and that's fine. It doesn't make you any less of a man, or a teacher. You were probably just tired, or nervous, or something. And then there's the pressure of a having a whole roomful of young women fingering it. I should say that's enough stress to give anyone performance-inhibiting anxiety. I think you should have some bok bun ja and eel, though, and not dog... it's cheaper and tastier, with double the effect if you have the two at the same time.



No comments: