Friday, June 29, 2007

In a time similar to our own

From Journal 1 – 22/08/1980

“In a time in some respects similar to our own, St Augustine of Hippo, after a lusty and intellectually inventive young manhood, withdrew from the world of sense and intellect and advised others to do likewise: ‘There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity…It is this which drives us on to try to discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which men should not wish to learn…In this immense forest full of pitfalls and perils, I have drawn myself back, and pulled myself away from those thorns. In the midst of all these things which float unceasingly around me in everyday life, I am never surprised at any of them, and never captivated by my genuine desire to study them….I no longer dream of the stars.’ The time of Augustine’s death, 430 AD, marks the beginning of the Dark Ages in Europe.”

- Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden, p.236-237.

A time similar to our own was succeeded by the Dark Ages to paraphrase Carl Sagan. It must be asked what justification there is for such a statement. Perhaps the widespread resurgence of interest in the occult, the willingness of many to believe in magic and prophets, the general rejection of rational thinking and of scientific investigations is a common theme to both these times. Many religions, including Christianity preach of an impending Apocalypse and indeed this may well occur not through a worldwide catastrophe but through a gradual decline, as science is further discredited.

The reasons for this are manifold. As man’s technology far outstrips his ability to comprehend all aspects of it (and there ate no late twentieth century cosmographers that I am aware of) the ‘ordinary’ people are naturally subject to future shock. Science which in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was seen as a new God that would continue to raise everyone’s living standards is now considered by people at large as a threatening dark force. Here is something that has given man the capability to destroy himself many times over; it has drawn him into many wars, minor and major, cold and conventional; in the west where rising unemployment is the great tragedy of our times, technology is considered a threat to many jobs; in the east and the third world the capacity of technology to raise living standards and provide food for all has failed to keep pace with population growth. Is it any wonder then that science is considered an ogre rather than a boon? This may be the reason for the comeback of the occult, for the unknown is sometimes less frightening than the known. There is no rational basis for a belief in spirits, telepathy, flying saucers, magic or any of the other new or renewed ‘religions’. But perhaps it just needs to be looked at in another perspective.

In nature, natural selection prevents overcrowding. In an overcrowded situation the weak die or are killed, or another force more wonderful comes into play. That force is speciation, where subtle changes or mutations in the genetic makeup allow expansion into other niches. Although I have no proof, it would be reasonable to assume that the larger the population the greater the number of mutations, thus providing another inbuilt safety valve when overcrowding occurs, or possibly before the overcrowding becomes critical. If telepathy, telekinesis etc. are one day scientifically proven they may simply be a result of our response to overcrowding. What sets man apart from other animals is his intellect. Where natural selection and speciation in other animals is restricted to an improved hunting technique or utilization of different food sources, in man such solutions are not possible. It would make sense for the forces of natural selection to act upon that part of mans anatomy that has served him so well, his brain.


I was forever the sceptic when it came to things psychic. Sure I'd dabbled in a few things over the years - an evangelical Christian movement during High School and talking in tongues, ouije board spooky things with my cousins and grandmother - but I was a supreme rationalist. When I re-read the post above it made me realise that perhaps in being rational I have actually tended to look for rational explanations to things rather than dismiss them out of hand.

If our thoughts are simply electrical impulses which can be measured is it not possible that some people are more attuned to them than others? If there are electrical and magnetic fields in the body is it not possible that disruptions to those fields occur through illness and injury, and they can also be felt by some people? If radio waves can continue to travel for infinity maybe simply diminshing in strength, what is the nature of thoughtwaves and can they too travel over physical distances? Certainly brainwaves and brain activity is measurable, is it such a stretch to believe that some people can actually feel them more than others? What is the nature of intuition? How do we sense things, like people walking into rooms, when our eyes are closed? How often do we say exactly the same thing as someone else, or finish another persons sentence?

So many questions.


paisley said...

i have top agree with st augustine, in that it is useless to rent space in our heads to so many things we will never see to a real end.. i for one,, even tho i realize this remain guilty of doing it, often...

meleah rebeccah said...

ditto to paisley's comment.

But I am very fascinated with the psychic possibilities.

Loz said...

Ladies if we cease to wonder and learn we cease to grow, and having been a regular reader of both your blogs I don't believe either of you are like that.

The psychic stuff is something I will explore further.

Christian said...

For Carcassonne I use The Panorama Factory software

HollyGL said...

For what its worth, I not only feel psychic phenomena a possiblility, I am certain of its existence. Though I couldn't begin to fully articulate why, other than to say its just something that I have too often experienced personally.

Greg said...

"A time similar to our own was succeeded by the Dark Ages to paraphrase Carl Sagan."

The dark ages were called dark because of a lack of historic record, not because of anything bad about these times. There was less "stability" overall because of the breakdown of the Western half of the Roman Empire, but by no means does Sagan make any sense in this kind of statement. Sagan, like many others, seems to say and believe things merely because something sounds nice rather than based on understanding. I guess he proved that dogma exists even for the atheist. Augustine would have approved.

Dan Leone said...

Excellent post Loz. I love that you spurred 6 very different and wonderful comments!

As you know, I am a skeptic as well as an atheist. I do not see the dogmatism in anything Carl Sagan says. Even if his historical accuracy can be debated.

For anyone to suggest that we need to suspend science and rational thought in order to give psychics, religions and the occult a chance to "prove themselves" is where the dogma begins. But Greg is correct in inferring that dogma can be found anywhere.

Once again, EXCELLENT post!

Greg said...

dan leone: My point about Sagan was that dogma is a mantra that is passed with little regard to reason. Sagan made the mistake of taking meaning on blind faith. The notion of the "dark" ages being dark because they are bad is a common misunderstanding. So on this one comment he seems to have made, not on him in general, he is guilty of the same kind of thing as what Augustine is advocating, blind obedience to the mantra, even though his blindness may be only due to laziness of fact checking.

I'd be careful with putting science and religion on polar opposites as you seem to imply with: "For anyone to suggest that we need to suspend science and rational thought in order to give psychics, religions and the occult a chance to "prove themselves" is where the dogma begins."

While science may be closer to rational thought—religion isn't about rational thought, it's about belief—science in practice is a lot different from the "ideal" science that is often referred to in statements like this. Practical science has just as much of an agenda as most religions, and the reason is generally the same: money.

dan leone said...

Eloquently stated Greg. Thank you.