Notes and Comment Blog

Those godmen

Aug 21st, 2013 10:37 am | By

Via Sanal Edamaruku, NDTV on the passage of that law in Maharashtra.

The state government today cleared an Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance to replace a Bill that had been approved by the cabinet but had lapsed before it could be taken up in the assembly. The Bill has been pending for eight years.

Among other things, the law seeks to make it punishable for self-styled godmen to prey on people by offering rituals, charms, magical cures and propagating black magic.

Dr Dabholkar had relentlessly campaigned for a law against superstition and black magic in the face of criticism from right-wing groups who had called him “anti-Hindu”.

Sanal also linked to a separate story about a “godman” – one charged with sexual assault on a minor. Funny thing about those “godmen”…

Delhi Police have booked self-styled godman Asaram Babu on charges of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl.

A zero FIR under section 376 was lodged at Kamala Market police station in central Delhi. on Tuesday evening.

The case pertains to the rape of a girl at a hostel in Jodhpur. “We registered the complaint, but the girl said the incident occurred in Rajasthan, so the case will be forwarded to Rajasthan,” a police officer told IANS.

The cops are approaching the case cautiously so as not to risk hurting the religious sentiments of a community.

Yes…we get that a lot.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Remembering Narendra Dabholkar

Aug 21st, 2013 10:21 am | By

The IHEU has compiled reactions to the murder of Narendra Dabholkar.

The Humanist and rationalist community in India has reacted with dignified anger and sadness, remembering an effective and stalwart campaigner, dedicated to the people of Maharashtra but always ready to cooperate across organizational boundaries. He was one of India’s foremost rationalists, working for social justice, against  caste discrimination, and exposing the so-called miracles of exploititive ‘godmen’. His work was well-known, and some aspect of it is widely believed to have motivated his killers.

The law against fraud via superstion was passed.

Dabholkar also lead the campaign for an anti-superstition Bill in Maharashtra state, and in the space of two days since his assassination, the state government has — after eight years of campaigning by activists and prevarication by the authorities — finally pushed through the Bill which Dabholkar worked so hard to see implemented.

The Maharashtra state government enacted an emergency ordinance to ban rituals, superstition and black magic. A bill similar to which Dr Dabholkar had been campaigning for must still be endorsed by the parliament. Previous versions of the Bill had been approved by the cabinet but lapsed before they could be put to a vote, despite being on the list for eight years. The emergency legislation makes it an offence to exploit or defraud people with ‘magical’ rituals, charms and cures.

One of the many statements:

Vidya Bhushan Rawat of the Social Development Foundation told IHEU, “The work carried by him and his organisation is enormous. India and South Asia are not so receptive to free-thinking and we face it regularly in our work… It is a sad day but it can not and should not deter the humanist rationalist activist to work on. India is in danger as religious fascist and Hindu nationalist forces with active support from international and national media, are on the rise. It is a big challenge and we have to fight it. We know much tougher days are ahead. The country is in the grip of hate-mongering people ready to kill people to get their political benefit. We condemn this murder and demand immediate inquiry from the government of Maharastra.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Annals of bad advice

Aug 20th, 2013 5:45 pm | By

The BBC reports a situation.

Some young HIV patients are giving up their medicine after being told by Pentecostal Church pastors to rely on faith in God instead, doctors warn.

Medical staff told the BBC a minority of pastors in England were endangering young church members by putting them under pressure to stop medication.

It’s a test of faith, you see.

I wonder if those pastors ever test their faith by walking in front of trains.

The doctors and health professionals reported a variety of cases:

  • Some said they had dealt with parents who felt under pressure to stop giving their young children their HIV medicine – and some had actually done so
  • Others were breastfeeding mothers with HIV who refused the medicine that would stop the virus being passed onto their babies
  • Some were young people, making the decision for themselves

The healthcare workers also reported that some patients had been told by their pastors they would be healed by prayer or by drinking blessed water.

That makes me feel indignant. Those pastors shouldn’t be doing that.

Dr Toni Tan, a consultant paediatrician, said some Pentecostal pastors were endangering the lives of sick followers.

“It’s my view that it’s very wrong for faith leaders to actively encourage their congregations to stop taking their medication… it will lead to their deaths.”

Pentecostals and other Christians see healing, like speaking in tongues, as a sign of the presence of God.

They should get over that.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Not prepared for what happened

Aug 20th, 2013 5:08 pm | By

A major problem with Massimo’s post, as commenters reminded me, is that it’s no good just looking around and saying X doesn’t have a particularly bad sexual harassment problem when we know that most sexual harassment is hidden. It’s a secret. It’s done when no one else is watching.

That’s not a reason to go all Recovered Memory, devil-worship in the day care center, arrest all the people. But it is a reason not to take a look at the surface of things and decide that everything’s pretty much ok.

Jennifer Saul made a point of saying that she was surprised by the stories of harassment that poured in when she started the What is it like to be a woman in philosophy blog.

Back in 2010, I set out to gain a better understanding of why this is.  Inspired by discussions with other women philosophers who were worried about the gender  gap in our discipline, I set up a blog where philosophers (of any gender) could share anonymous stories — positive or negative — about what it is like to be a woman in philosophy. I was not prepared for what happened.

Almost instantly, I was deluged with stories of sexual harassment.

I was shocked by these stories, and struggled to schedule them to appear, four a day, two weeks in advance.  It kept up this way for months.  There is still a steady stream of stories of this sort.

She didn’t know it was that bad until people started telling her. Massimo shouldn’t be assuming he knows how bad it is.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A problem ≠ the worst problem ever

Aug 20th, 2013 4:01 pm | By

Massimo Pigliucci asked yesterday, “Does philosophy have a sexual harassment problem?” He asked it in response to Jennifer Saul’s article in Salon, which was titled “Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem.”

Last week Jennifer Saul, a philosopher at the University of Sheffield, published an article in Salon entitled: “Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem.” While there is much substance and nuance in the body of the article, I sincerely hope that Prof. Saul did not actually choose the title herself (editors often do that sort of thing), because the message it sends is anything but nuanced, and if taken at face value also not particularly constructive.

And that’s what he got from that article? That saying philosophy has a sexual harassment problem is overstating the problem? Rather than that, say, the sexual harassment there is in philosophy is a problem? He is, in short, worrying more about the reputation of philosophy than he is about the women being harassed?

After that he pauses to say that sexual harassment is a bad thing and he doesn’t think it’s been addressed yet.

Saul goes on to point out that since she started a blog devoted to women in philosophy she began receiving an alarming number of anonymous testimonials of sexual harassment in the workplace, with heart wrenching stories concerning undergraduate students, graduate students, and young faculty. These stories are aggravated by the fact that often nothing was done about the incidents in question, sometimes discouragingly pointing to a failure of the people involved, as well as of their institutions, in even understanding that there was a problem. It makes for sober reading for anyone who still doesn’t take this issue seriously.

But none of this amounts to the conclusion stated in the title of Saul’s essay: we simply do not know whether philosophy as a field is particularly vexed by sexual harassment, or whether philosophy is simply a microcosm of the still largely misogynistic society in which we live.

But that isn’t the conclusion stated in the title of Saul’s essay. The title of the essay isn’t “Philosophy has an exceptionally bad sexual harassment problem.” The title just says that philosophy has a problem.

 Indeed, in the body of the article Saul herself clearly states: “When I talk to people about this, I am invariably asked whether sexual harassment is worse in philosophy than in other fields. The short answer is that we don’t really know: it’s very difficult to get good data on something that is drastically underreported and often kept confidential even once reported.” Good, then I hope that Saul protested vehemently with the Salon editor when she saw the title under which her article appeared, because it literally indicts an entire fields of professionals — most of whom do not engage in sexual harassment — with a broad brush that is as offensive as it is unsubstantiated.

No, it doesn’t. Saying there’s a problem doesn’t indict the whole field, much less all the people (whether professional or amateur) who work in the field. There just isn’t any need to be defensive about it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It’s provocation

Aug 20th, 2013 12:37 pm | By

What the hell happened to personal responsibility? Eh? Waah waah waah, they provoked me, make them stop – that’s all we ever hear. Man up, anti-choicers! If someone offers you more wine an abortion clinic to target with violence, you can just say no.

Amanda Marcotte tells us the anti-choicers in Wichita are arguing over this point, now that a new clinic has opened where Dr Tiller’s used to be until an anti-choicer shot him dead in a church.

But now there’s a new clinic in town where Dr. Tiller’s used to be, and irate anti-choice groups are petitioning the city to have it shut down.

Their reasoning is that the clinic, the South Wind Women’s Center, provokes them into harassing the people going in and out of it, and because they understand that they are super annoying people, they would like the provocation taken away. 

Better yet, an intra-fundamentalist controversy has erupted over the question of exactly how provocative the clinic is. One group says that medical workers providing private abortion care are deliberately provoking gun violence and have to be stopped before some hapless responsible gun owner who brings a gun to an abortion clinic ends up in jail because a meanie doctor pushed him to murder. The other groups say that while they fully agree that the clinic is making them harass its workers and patients, it’s a step too far to suggest they’re pushing anyone to shoot at them.

That’s very disappointing. Surely they should be united on this question. Personal responsibility, I tell you.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Sanal Edamaruku comments

Aug 20th, 2013 11:57 am | By

Sanal Edamaruku talks to Arun George about the murder of Narendra Dabholkar.

The murder of noted anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar in broad daylight in Pune not only highlights the risk a rationalist faces in the country, but according to some like activist Sanal Edamaruku, it should serve as encouragement to others to take up his cause.

“He was one of the most wonderful soldiers of rationalism in Maharashtra because he was taking the movement down to the villages on one side and the legislature on the other,” Edamaruku told Firstpost.

Edamaruku may be right. Sometimes an assassination or an attempted assassination does inspire others to take up the cause. That’s happened with Malala Yousafzai, for example. It’s much too stiff a price to pay, though.

During the course of his battle against superstition, Dabholkar had received many threats from various groups but had never allowed it to deter him. Edamaruku, the president of an organisation called the Indian Rationalist Association, says the threats usually come from those who are perpetrating superstitions and other beliefs.

It’s a nice racket for them; they don’t want people messing it up.

“It is not the victims of superstition who are normally against rationalists but the exploiters who are using superstition and are using the gullibility of people, they are the ones against us,” Edamaruku said.

He said the persecution rationalists faced only encouraged them to continue to battle harder against it.

However, successes are few. Edamaruku pointed out that Dabholkar’s mission — the anti-superstition bill — had been significantly watered down and had still not been passed by the Maharashtra legislation.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Narendra Dabholkar

Aug 20th, 2013 11:25 am | By

Terrible news from India today -

Renowned rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, who fought for a law against superstition and black magic, was shot dead this morning in Pune in Maharashtra, an incident which sparked grief and outrage in the city and his hometown Satara.

The 70-year-old was on his morning walk when he was shot near the Omkareshwar Bridge in the city by gunmen on a motorcycle. The police said four shots were fired at him at close range, two of which hit him in the back of his head.

The authorities don’t think it was random.

In Dr Dabholkar’s hometown Satara, thousands came out on the streets to pay tribute to a man loved and respected for his campaign against superstition and self-appointed godmen.

Political parties also announced a shutdown in Pune on Wednesday. All autorickshaws will stay off the roads.

Announcing Rs. 10 lakh for any information on the murder, the Maharashtra government called it a planned killing and slammed the police for failing to protect the senior activist.

The IHEU has more:

Dr. Dabholkar, a medical doctor, plunged into anti-superstition work in 1983 and built a concrete movement in his home state of Maharashtra.  He was founder of the Maharashtra Forum for Elimination of Superstition, Maharashtra Andha Shraddha Nirmulan Samiti, editor of Sadhana magazine devoted to propagation of progressive thought, and had served previously as vice president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA), an Member Organization of IHEU.

Dabholkar’s work over many years confronted and exposed the fraudulent practices of babas and swamis by explaining the science behind so-called miracles, often used to defraud some of the least well-off members of society of their money or possessions. Dabholkar organised travelling troops of activists travelling all over the state, and campaigned at a political level with great erudition against superstition and so-called ‘black magic’.

India needs more people like that, not fewer.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Aug 19th, 2013 5:49 pm | By

Aha, a gap in my knowledge of popular culture. (There are a lot of those.) I didn’t know kawaii was a thing. I knew about the Japanese cult of cuteness, but I didn’t know it had a name, or that it was a fashion outside Japan.

(I know a woman, a PhD-MD, whose parents left Japan for the US when she was a child because they couldn’t stand to let her grow up under that kind of pressure – and that was decades ago.)

Wikipedia clued me in.

Kawaii (かわいい [kaw͍aiꜜi], “lovable”, “cute”, or “adorable”[1]) is the quality of cuteness in the context of Japanese culture.[2][3][4] It has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior, and mannerisms.[5] The noun is kawaisa (可愛?), literally, “lovability”, “cuteness” or “adorableness”.

My skin is crawling already. I can’t bear cuteness in adults – that is to say, in adult women, because not too many men go in for it.

Japanese women who feign kawaii behaviors (e.g., high-pitched voice, squealing giggles[15]) that could be viewed as forced or inauthentic are called burikko and this is considered a gender performance.[16] The term burikko (鰤子?) is formed with buri (, literally ‘amberjack’ a fish), a pun on furi (, ‘to pretend or pose’),[17] and ko (, ‘child’).[16] It was a neologism developed in the 1980s by singer Kuniko Yamada (山田邦子, Yamada Kuniko?).[16]

Ew. Yes of course it’s a gender performance, but it’s a peculiarly gross one. Those squealing giggles…

Japanese women often try to act cute to attract men.[18] A study by Kanebo, a cosmetic company, found that Japanese women in their 20s and 30s favored the “cute look” with a “childish round face”.[7] Women also employ a look of innocence in order to further play out this idea of cuteness.

Yup. They duck their heads and then peer up adorably; they let their mouths open a little so that a couple of darling little pearly teeth show…

And to quote an immortal concluding line of Dorothy Parker’s, Tonstant Weader fwoed up.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Oh did you say something?

Aug 19th, 2013 5:15 pm | By

Jennifer Saul goes on to talk about the other ways women are belittled and overlooked in philosophy departments.

The blog also contains story after story of women whose point isn’t taken seriously until repeated by a man; or who simply aren’t called on during question periods.  And the Gendered Conference Campaign (run by the group blog Feminist Philosophers, of which I’m also a part) documents conference after conference with absolutely no invited women speakers. Recent work by Kieran Healy has dramatically demonstrated how infrequently work of women philosophers is cited.

What lies behind this?  There is undeniably still some outright prejudice in the field: One male philosopher I knew was well-known for openly declaring that women and black people are generally of inferior intelligence, and he remains highly respected and extremely well-paid.  But much more frequently what’s probably going on is due to implicit bias — unconscious associations we hold largely due to living in cultures structured by social categories like race or gender.  Psychologists have firmly established that these associations lead us — even, very often, the committed egalitarians among us — to judge the very same CV to be less good when a female name appears at the top rather than a male one.  They also lead us to take women’s comments less seriously, to have more difficulty recognizing them as leaders, and to be less likely to think of them when considering who to invite to a conference.  All this takes place largely outside of our conscious awareness, and can’t be corrected simply by trying harder to be unbiased.

So…could someone develop a pill, please? Or an implant? Or a genetic modification?


Moreover, reflecting approvingly on one’s own objectivity (as philosophers are wont to do) will make it worse.

Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god – it’s The Skeptics again. I think they’re even more wont to do that than philosophers are. They are very wont to do that. Remember Mr Deity the other day? Yammering about other people’s cognitive biases while in the very act of hotly insisting that a friend and collaborator of his couldn’t possibly have a skeezy side? Yeah. Irregular verbs, but even more irregular than usual – I’m objective and you’re not.

I know I have implicit biases. I know I do. I was raised on cowboy shows and cop shows and war movies like everyone else! How could I possibly not have them?

I think an implant would be the best way to go. At birth. Mandatory.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Common knowledge in the department

Aug 19th, 2013 4:13 pm | By

One item from What’s it’s like to be a woman in philosophy.

I was in my second year of studies at a top philosophy department in the US. I took a course in X that was offered by a very prominent male philosopher who also happened to be quite active and outspoken in attempts to improve the position of women in philosophy. Once after class I mentioned to him that I was considering the possibility of writing a dissertation under his supervision, and he seemed supportive as I was among the best students in his course. One evening toward the end of the term we discussed possible topics for my thesis in his office. At one point during that conversation he stood up, looked at me in a strange way and said that he had an irresistible desire to touch my breasts. As he approached me I recoiled in disgust and rushed outside. When I later told some of my friends what happened they wondered why I was so shocked about the incident because they said this professor hitting on female students was common knowledge in the department. This was too much for me. It obviously meant that this behavior was tolerated and that none of my other teachers in that department felt any obligation to do anything about it. I left the program after a few weeks for good and never returned to philosophy studies again.

There you go – common knowledge; tolerated; no obligation to do anything about it; woman leaves the program and philosophy, forever.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The serial harassers who suffer no loss to their career

Aug 19th, 2013 3:22 pm | By

Salon, very sensibly, decided to ask Jennifer Saul to explain about sexual harassment in philosophy. Saul is the philosopher who set up the blog “What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?”.

 Inspired by discussions with other women philosophers who were worried about the gender  gap in our discipline, I set up a blog where philosophers (of any gender) could share anonymous stories — positive or negative — about what it is like to be a woman in philosophy. I was not prepared for what happened.

Almost instantly, I was deluged with stories of sexual harassment.  There was the job candidate who said she was sexually assaulted at the annual APA meeting where job interviews take place.  The undergraduate whose professor joked publicly about dripping hot wax on her nipples.  The persistent failure to understand that a woman of color might actually be a philosophy professor.  The lesbian who found herself suddenly invited, after she came out, to join in the sexualizing of her female colleagues.  Most of all, the repeated failure to actually respond to and deal with harassment: the serial harassers who suffer no loss to their career, despite widespread knowledge of their behavior and even of their sometimes vicious retaliation against complainants. The complicity of their institutions and their colleagues, who in many cases join in the retaliation as they close ranks.

Does that sound familiar? Yes it does. It sounds familiar in every way – in being surprised by the deluge of stories of sexual harassment, in the repeated failure to actually respond to and deal with harassment, in the fact that the serial harassers suffer no loss to their career, despite widespread knowledge of their behavior, in the complicity of their institutions and their colleagues, who in many cases join in the retaliation as they close ranks.

Many, many stories came in of women who had left philosophy due to harassment.

This matters. As Saul says at the beginning, after citing the Colin McGinn story:

Philosophy, the oldest of the humanities, is also the malest (and the whitest).  While other areas of the humanities are at or near gender parity, philosophy is actually more overwhelmingly male than even mathematics.  In the US, only 17 percent of philosophers employed full-time are women.

And many, many stories came in of women who had left philosophy due to harassment. That matters. Philosophy is the malest of the humanities at least partly because many male philosophers have driven women out, almost as overtly as if they had beaten them up and told them to get out if they didn’t want more of the same.

But now my role has shifted somewhat.  As my real name came out (I run the blog under a poorly thought-out pseudonym), I was increasingly contacted by women who were afraid to post their stories online.  These stories were worse than the ones I was posting.  The men involved were often famous, the harassment even more severe, the retaliation more vicious and persistent.  Because so many people hesitate (rightly, I suspect) to tell their stories even in personal emails, I found that some weeks I was spending more than half my nights having Skype conversations with victims of sexual harassment.

Familiar, again? Women who are afraid to report; famous men; vicious retaliation.

Of course, the next question is how to get rid of it.  Obviously, one key part of the picture will be good formal procedures for preventing and punishing sexual harassment that are applied fairly and taken seriously (all too often, this doesn’t happen).  But I’ve become increasingly convinced that this isn’t all.  To see this, think some more about the male philosopher joking about dripping hot wax on his undergraduate student’s nipples.  This was actually in front of a table full of faculty members.  What did they do?  They laughed.  This may well have been nervous laughter, but it made the student feel that the joke was acceptable and that she was oversensitive — and contributed strongly to her feelings of discomfort in the department.

What should they have done instead?

Although formal remedies would surely be possible, it would probably have been very effective to apply the informal social remedies at which humans are so talented — even just to look disapproving, or to not laugh.  When we leave everything up to formal remedies, we neglect our responsibilities as bystanders.  Being a bystander to someone else’s bad behavior is admittedly a very uncomfortable position to be in — but it comes with great power, and I am convinced we need to learn to use that power properly (along with, not instead of, formal measures).  As Lt. Gen. David Morrison put it so well, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And that applies to bystanders online, too. We know of quite a few of them – people who stand by, who laugh, who sometimes covertly join in. Some of those people are even philosophers.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Aug 19th, 2013 10:43 am | By

Remember Taslima’s extraordinary (horrific) post last summer about acid attacks?* I did a little alert post about it at the time. (A post to alert, not a post that was particularly alert.) Taslima’s post has gone viral over the past few days. I’ve been thinking all those new eyes must mean new hope for action.

And Taslima says they have. She’s hearing from people who are creating groups to help victims, and people who are going to the UN to discuss the problem. In some schools teachers are teaching their students about acid problems and handing out copies of Taslima’s post.

This is good. Education is the first step. Awareness is the first step toward change.

Well done, Taslima.

*Warning: there are pictures, and they are horrific.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Extreme Skeptics™

Aug 18th, 2013 6:17 pm | By

I like this idea of dramatizing life among the Extreme Skeptics™, I want to do some more of it.

Scene 1

The living room. Chris is watching “Hoarders” on tv; Terry enters.

Terry: Let’s go swimming?

Chris: Why?

Terry: “Why?” What do you mean why? For fun, that’s why.

Chris: What’s your evidence that swimming is fun?

Terry: What are you talking about?! I like swimming, that’s my “evidence.”

Chris: That’s just a feeling. Feelings are not evidence.

Terry: Oooooookay, see you later. [Exit carrying towel and bathing suit]

Scene 2

The living room. Chris is watching “Man vs Food” on tv; Terry enters.

Terry: You drank all the milk!

Chris: What’s your evidence for that?

Terry [shaking a plastic milk jug]: There are like three drops left and it was nearly full this morning! That’s my evidence.

Chris: Maybe you drank it all.

Terry: I didn’t.

Chris: What’s your evidence for that?

Terry: I don’t have any evidence! I just know I didn’t. I had a little on my cereal for breakfast and that’s it, and I was at work all day.

Chris: Maybe you had a blackout and don’t remember.

Terry: Or maybe you drank it all and didn’t bother to get more.

Chris: What’s your evidence for that?

Terry: That’s it – I’m moving out.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

So far, this is just gossip

Aug 18th, 2013 4:45 pm | By

PZ has a post on this fun new trick of saying “I am Skeptic, I don’t just believe your claim just like that, I wasn’t born yesterday, I demand evidence for all claims” whenever there’s a woman muttering something about harassment. He does it with a short one-act play about a visit to SkepticDoc, M.D.

PZ: Doctor, lately I’ve been experiencing shortness of breath and an ache in my left shoulder when I exert myself…

SkepticDoc: Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down! See the name on the shingle? It’s SkepticDoc. Do you have anything other than your feelings to justify wasting my time here?

PZ: What? I’m telling you my symptoms…

SkepticDoc: Yeah, yeah, your feelings. Do you have some physical evidence that you felt pain? Some independent corroboration that you felt this remarkable “ache”? So far, this is just gossip.

Sound familiar? Yeah. All too god damn familiar.

Let’s live like that, shall we? Whenever a friend is unhappy about something – demand evidence of the unhappiness! Then demand an airtight logical argument for the unhappiness. Then give a lecture on how to develop a backbone and (use a lot of anger in the voice and facial expression here) personal responsibility. Then ask for money.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

In Dublin city centre

Aug 18th, 2013 3:08 pm | By

That was an estimated 5000 people marching in Dublin today, calling on the Government to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

RTÉ News has video from the march.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Born in a squirrel

Aug 18th, 2013 12:40 pm | By

Patricia Churchland once talked to the Dalai Lama. You can guess what they talked about from knowing it was Pat Churchland. She tells Religion Dispatches about it.

Then what about religions that believe in reincarnation, where the soul survives bodily death and is reborn in another body? 

What would it be, this thing? If the brain is the repository of memories and skills and thoughts and perceptions, what would this thing be that goes off somewhere else and gets born in a squirrel or something? I actually had a conversation about this with the Dalai Lama many years ago and he was very interested in the brain. He asked a group of us to come and talk to him about it and teach him about it.

He and I got into this long conversation about reincarnation and I presented him with my reservations about such a thing. Something is left, namely the body, and as that disintegrates small creatures make use of the bits and pieces and in that sense it’s reincarnated, but there isn’t anything else, some nonphysical thing that has feelings and thoughts and memories and personality that goes into the little critters or into a person. What gets transferred from parent to child is information in the DNA, but that’s not quite what he had in mind either.

I think he was actually moved by this discussion. Of course, he didn’t immediately change his mind and say, “Oh, yeah, you’ve got to be right.” Which is fine—it takes time to get used to these things. But, I think it did motivate him to be very worried that there perhaps was not this nonphysical thing that had all the properties of personality and mood and temperament and learning that got transferred.

One would hope so, because what would it be, exactly? I’ve been wondering that for years – what people think they mean by it. What do they mean by thinking they’ve been “reborn” many times? What is the self in that thought? I think the self is, as Churchland says, “memories and skills and thoughts and perceptions”…which are accumulated over a lifetime, not born. A clone wouldn’t be you, and being reborn isn’t anything.

Interesting, given that Tibetan Buddhists believe that the Dalai Lama himself is a reincarnated soul.

That was what made the discussion particularly awkward. I told him, “I don’t think you could possibly be reincarnated. They may have identified something about you that was wonderful when you were a baby, but it can’t possibly be that something that was once in the Buddha got put into you. What would that thing be?”

It was a very frank conversation. The great thing about him was he didn’t want to stop this conversation. He wanted to know and he just pressed for more and for more. I was blown away by that.

New age books and even the Buddhists talk about how we are not our minds, that instead there is an “eternal Self” or “observer” that is really us. Aren’t your findings at odds with that? 

I think different circuitry is involved in the brain when the mind is thinking about something and when there is a kind of observation of those thoughts. I think it’s just different parts of the brain doing different things. There’s not a separate self in the sense that it’s a non-physical brain beyond the brain. The part of the brain that controls an eye blink reflex is very different than the circuitry that is thinking about that reflex. At one and the same time those two things can happen, so you can have a reflex of blink and be mentally observing that blink, so that’s just two different circuits in the brain doing what they normally do.

We’re all our own Omniscient Narrator.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Aug 18th, 2013 11:17 am | By

Michael Nugent tweeted from the Dublin marriage equality march a couple of hours ago, with a photo:

Embedded image permalink

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The eros of the podium

Aug 17th, 2013 4:13 pm | By

We’re arguing about it in comments, so I’ll bring it up here to argue some more. (And watch: now no one will argue any more. That always happens.)

We’re arguing about this question of whether it’s ok for conference speakers to hook up with attendees, assuming mutual enthusiasm and availability.

I’m not on the side my haters* would expect.They would expect me to screek in horror and demand that everyone be taken away in chains. You know the drill – ugly old bitch, crazy bitter ugly angry old bitch jealous of all the hot young people having secks, wants to see them all boiled in oil.

But nah. I don’t see the problem. I agree that the bigger stars among the conference speakers shouldn’t be obnoxious about it; they shouldn’t blatantly leverage their status to get laid; but other than that, go for it. Why not? These things are social, and that’s why they’re fun. You meet people, you talk, it’s fun. Sometimes that leads to sex and/or romance, a happy weekend or an extended relationship. What’s wrong with that?

Conferences aren’t universities. Nobody’s grading anybody. Nobody has any real power over anybody. If people want to jump on each other, I can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t.

Conferences (of the kind we’re talking about) are like universities however in the sense that they’re meant to be intellectually stimulating, and often are. That’s erotic itself, as any fule kno. I was always getting crushes on the guys in the tweed jackets when I was at university – little crushes, big crushes, fun crushes, yearning crushes – alla crushes. This was 400 years ago, too, so there were far more men teaching than women; lots of scope for crushes. I never did anything about them though apart from trying to write really good papers. Sublimation, but then again, I wrote some good papers. Win-win if you ask me, but then I’m a nerd. But the point is: at conferences there’s not much reason not to act on attractions provided they are mutual. At least I can’t see any. You?

*They’re not just my haters. They all hate other people too. I don’t think I have any haters who focus on me alone. I don’t want to be boastful about them.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

All claims

Aug 17th, 2013 2:13 pm | By

Brian Dalton has a follow-up to his “how to say no to more wine” video.

It’s obnoxious. For some reason he makes a big issue of the fact that the “no more wine thank you, I’m good; see how easy that was?” segment was about this one bit of PZ’s post and not about the other bit. Well I knew that but it doesn’t amaze me that other people didn’t, and anyway, I don’t see why he makes a big issue of it since he didn’t spell that out in the original video. If you do a parable and people don’t figure out exactly what the reference is, it’s conceivable that that’s your doing and not theirs. It’s obnoxious to get belligerent about it.

And then there’s the fact that six seconds in he casually refers to “Slandergate,” as if that were a real name.

And then there’s the text on the screen at the end.

P.S. All claims require evidence, whether they are extraordinary or not. And a claim, in and of itself, is not, by definition, evidence.

Oh, please.

In the first place, what does that even mean? What does it mean for a claim to require evidence? He must mean something like “all claims, to be reasonably believed, require evidence.” But that’s not what he said. Claims don’t require anything.

In the second place, a claim is evidence that a claim has been made.

In the third place, lots of claims can be reasonably believed without evidence. Countless everyday claims can be perfectly reasonably accepted and believed and acted on without evidence, and yes that is partly because they’re so ordinary. If a friend says she’s thirsty it’s perfectly reasonable to believe her unless you have some reason not to. Belief is the default with ordinary claims like that. Dalton doesn’t mean “all claims” at all. He probably means something like all contested claims, or all controversial claims – but then he should have said that. He shouldn’t have made such a big smug obnoxious deal of setting us all straight on the matter and then done a sloppy job of it.

So – meh.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)