[ExI] Belief in maths (was mind body dualism)

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Mon Jul 12 20:12:04 UTC 2010

On 7/12/2010 2:31 PM, samantha wrote:

> I once led an intelligent, honest fundamentalist friend step by step,
> starting from what she did believe to be true outside fundamentalist
> conclusions, to see clearly that her beliefs were highly inconsistent
> and contradictory and the bible was filled also with such
> contradictions, inconsistencies also and with many horrid things.  She
> saw perfectly clearly that much of what she believed to be true could
> not be true.   Do you know what she said at the end?  It was what
> persuaded me to not do that again.  "Thank you for your patience and
> even, calm, fair discussion with me.  I learned a lot and see that you
> are largely right in what you said at the beginning.  But this is what I
> believe and I like believing it so I am going to keep doing so."

Similar experience here, but more horrifying because I wasn't all that 
patient, even or calm (from my book THE LAST MORTAL GENERATION):
I was once introduced to a New Age guru whom an acquaintance assured me 
was charming and spiritually wise. I found him likable, as advertised, 
sickly sentimental and utterly gullible. We had a very long and painful 
conversation, interspersed by frantic cups of tea. Each statement he 
made was weirder and more credulous than the item preceding it; the 
world was run on principles of numerology, and you can change traffic 
lights to green by wishing hard as you approach them, and aromas cured 
everything that ailed your body (except for the grave intestinal illness 
that had almost killed him a few months earlier, fixed in hospital at 
the last moment by huge doses of cortisone - which he ungratefully and 
in retrospect dubbed `toxic chemicals' forced upon him by a crudely 
reductionist science), and the iris was connected to da hip-bone, and 
UFOs were driven by little gray aliens, and Sai Baba could levitate and 
pour endless quantities of dust out of his open hand and vomit up gold 
phalluses a foot long, and crystals had magical powers, and the Urantia 
Book was the source of all wisdom, such as the passages about how humans 
had evolved through the stages of Green Men and Purple Men and Blue Men, 

At first I listened to this gibberish with wonderment, as if privileged 
in an anthropological way to observe a rare sub-culture of Pre-rational 
Humankind. After a while (shame on me!) I gratuitously began to lecture 
the poor man, in an increasingly frenetic and cross-disciplinary way, on 
alternative explanations for these odd phenomena, the sort that current 
science might put forward. I ranted on, delivering myself of cognitive 
science explanations for just why he found such unsubstantiated hogwash 
so believable. He reeled away hours later in a bruised mental condition, 
I gather, and I have never seen him since.

You might wonder, as I do: why did I feel impelled to *set him 
straight*? Leave aside whether I have any warrant for thinking that my 
book-larnin' gave me a grip on truth superior to his woolly 
word-of-mouth subcultural melange; of course I do. But I don't stand on 
street corners preaching godlessness to passing Mormons. This urge only 
comes over me when I find myself in a room with one or more black 
holists whose views affront me in their inanity and intellectual 
poverty. Or, more importantly - not just their views, but their ways of 
deploying, testing, applying and revising those views.

Despite appearances, I am not especially dogmatic about any particular 
sub-sections of my world view. Like many intellectuals struggling to 
keep their heads above the torrent of new books and journal articles and 
Internet postings, I modify my opinions about quantum theory and 
cosmology and the structure of mind and society according to whichever 
brilliantly-argued source I read last. But (no credit to me in this 
fact, of course) those somewhat flexible views form a kind of 
mutually-bracing geodesic structure of some power and authority. So 
maybe they generate Dawkins-style memes that insist on broadcasting 
themselves and fighting opposing memes to the death.

Damien Broderick

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