Can Science Explain the Spiritual Without the Aid of Religion?

August 29, 2008

Can science explain spirituality?

As the debate between believers of religion and the atheists continues unabated, many are turning towards science to understand why humans seem to not only want religion, but need it as well.

Once again the battlefield is the human brain as some neuroscientists are attempting to explain spiritual experiences through scientific means that make an end run around religion. This group is basing its findings around the study of interoception. Sandra Blakeslee attempts to understand why she feels a spiritual presence and why she can reject religion at the same time in Flesh Made Soul. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Can science help?

I think it can, although the research is in an early stage. A stunning new description of how the human body and brain communicate to produce emotional states — including our feelings, cravings, and moods — has all the elements needed to explain how the human brain might give rise to spiritual experiences, without the necessary involvement of a supernatural presence, according to Dr. Martin Paulus, a psychiatrist at the University of California in San Diego who is also a Zen practitioner.

Called interoception, it offers a radically new view of human anatomy and physiology based on how information from the body reaches the brain and how that information is processed uniquely in humans.

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e-mail response time and what it says about you

August 29, 2008

how do you respond to e-mails?

In an age of instant communication many are accustomed to prompt response when sending a message to others. Unfortunately for some, a prompt response isn’t always a certainty.

How quickly do you respond to e-mails? Dr. Karen Renaud of the University of Glasgow tells us that people break down into three groups when replying to e-mails: relaxed, driven, and stressed.

Women, in particular, felt more pressure to respond quickly to a new email than men, she said.

‘The relaxed group don’t let email exert any pressure on their lives,’ Dr Renaud, an expert in computer science, said.

‘They treat it exactly the way that one would treat the mail: “I’ll fetch it, I’ll deal with it in my own time, but I’m not going to let it upset me”.

‘The second group felt “driven” to keep on top of email, but also felt that they could cope with it. The third group, however, reacted negatively to the pressure of email.

read the rest here

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Toronto Lands a Spot On World Monopoly

August 26, 2008

Toronto’s inferiority complex gets a boost

It’s either a good thing or a bad thing from the perspective of a city wanting to be world class, but Toronto has made it, albeit symbolically. Hasbro Inc. has announced that Toronto is to appear on the new World Monopoly gameboard.

Landing a spot will sooth Toronto’s inferiority complex, but it will also be aggravated by the fact that not only are we stuck between Kiev and Istanbul, Hogtown is also a property of lesser value behind Vancouver and Montreal. Toronto needs a better PR department :)

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Small Pleasures #2 – Ice Cream

August 20, 2008

Ice Cream

I couldn’t resist posting this image :)

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Happiness isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be…….Viva Melancholia!

August 20, 2008

Edgar Degas’ Melancholy (1874)

Ask a person what they most want in life and most will automatically reply “happiness”. It’s more than a fair answer and happiness in life is a worthy goal but is it the alpha and omega of our being? One must feel sadness and loss to understand the absence of happiness and to magnify its benefits. It’s these range of emotions that make us all the more human.

In our technologically driven world, many seek happiness by canceling out sadness through medication. Prozac is one of the more popular medications on the market and like other anti-depressants it has been criticized for making people “less human” since it limits the range of their emotions. Soma was used in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” for much the same reason (amongst other reasons).

Americans are notorious pill-poppers, especially those that can result in some form of “happiness”. After all, it fits into their country’s mission statement: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” all too well. But is happiness everything? Eric G. Wilson says it isn’t and that by eliminating feelings of melancholy Americans are missing out on an essential part of life. Read his excellent article: In Praise of Melancholy. Here’s a short excerpt:

I for one am afraid that American culture’s overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am concerned that to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful of our society’s efforts to expunge melancholia. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?

My fears grow out of my suspicion that the predominant form of American happiness breeds blandness. This kind of happiness appears to disregard the value of sadness. This brand of supposed joy, moreover, seems to foster an ignorance of life’s enduring and vital polarity between agony and ecstasy, dejection and ebullience. Trying to forget sadness and its integral place in the great rhythm of the cosmos, this sort of happiness insinuates that the blues are an aberrant state that should be cursed as weakness of will or removed with the help of a little pink pill.

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Why the Internet Makes Identity Theft So Easy

August 20, 2008

identity theft
Identity theft is much easier than you might imagine

We humans being the most social of animals leads us to constantly talk about ourselves (some more than others, some much, much more) no matter how mundane or trivial the actual subject can be. New technology such as the internet has only facilitated this urge to speak about ourselves even more in the form of social networking sites.

In a previous post here at vodka/soda we discussed some of the dangers of social networking sites on the internet. One of the most costly dangers is identity theft, a theft made much easier by the amount of personal information available about ourselves and made available by ourselves (and websites) on the web.

Herbert H. Thompson, a professor of computer science and a software developer, shows us how easy it is to steal a person’s identity just by mining data on the internet in: How I Stole Someone’s Identity. Here’s a quote from the article:

I asked some of my acquaintances, people I know only casually, if with their permission and under their supervision I could break into their online banking accounts. After a few uncomfortable pauses, some agreed. The goal was simple: get into their online banking account by using information about them, their hobbies, their families and their lives freely available online. To be clear, this isn’t hacking or exploiting vulnerabilities, instead it’s mining the Internet for nuggets of personal data.

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Mark Rothko, Untitled (1960)

August 18, 2008

Mark Rothko, Untitled (1960)

As readers of this site are already familiar with my favourite piece of art it should come as no surprise to you that I really appreciate the Rothko work shown above. Rothko refused to explain his work leaving us with one of art’s great mysteries. The UK Times is asking us what we think of this piece and what we think it represents. While you ponder those questions, have a look at some quotes by Mark Rothko:

“I am not an abstract painter. I am not interested in the relationship between form and color. The only thing I care about is the expression of man’s basic emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, destiny.”

“The role of the artist, of course, has always been that of image-maker. Different times require different images. Today when our aspirations have been reduced to a desperate attempt to escape from evil, and times are out of joint, our obsessive, subterranean and pictographic images are the expression of the neurosis which is our reality. To my mind certain so-called abstraction is not abstraction at all. On the contrary, it is the realism of our time. ”

“Since my pictures are large, colorful and unframed, and since museum walls are usually immense and formidable, there is the danger that the pictures relate themselves as decorative areas to the walls. This would be a distortion of their meaning, since the pictures are intimate and intense, and are the opposite of what is decorative.”

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