Friday, 22 August 2014

Warnie Lewis's evaluation of Charles WIlliams


How to argue - the outcome-comparative method ("And then what? Compared with what?")


The proper way to evaluate an argument in real life situations is to accept the validity of premises (provisionally) and follow them through to their conclusions - then to evaluate the premises in light of the conclusions by comparison with the outcome of other premises.

In other words - two maxims are combined: "And then what?" followed by "Compared with what?"

On the lines of: "Assuming this is true; then what it implies is that... Whereas if this is true; it implies that..."


The outcome-comparative method is is contrast with the usual method of arguing-against; which is to reject premises on absolute grounds, as being biased or incomplete (but then all premises are biased and incomplete...).

And to argue-against using absolute standards: when if an argument has any (apparent) flaws, by abstract and impartial standards, then it is rejected (but then all arguments are flawed).


The point is that the premises you already believe and argue from may be more biased and incomplete than the premises you are evaluating; the argument you have already accepted may be more flawed than the argument you reject - and this will become apparent further downstream, when the consequences are compared.


The usual methods of arguing are simply pseudo objective, pseudo-rational excuses for holding-onto what we already believe, or changing our beliefs to whatever we happen to want to believe; methods to ensure that any other arguments (and I mean any other argument) can be rejected, without any problem whatsoever.

The usual methods are, in fact, characteristic of 'clever silly' people; and perhaps become more common with increasing cleverness.

Most typical is the person who prides himself (preens himself) on being rational, logical, skeptical, evidence-based - but whose opinions are effortlessly dictated by the zig-zags of fashion, group-think, status-seeking and psycho-social expediency.


One big difficulty in doing what I recommend is that bad arguments typically obscure their premises, deny their true premises, or present false premises. The real premises may be very obvious - but will seldom be explicit.

Indeed, people will tend to state as premises what are in fact their conclusions - or state as premises what are actually their intentions - their hoped-for outcomes.

So the outcome-comparative method is not instant, not easy, nor is it uncontroversial; and it may be actively confrontational, since it entails disbelieving other-peoples' accounts of their beliefs, and telling others what they really believe.

This doesn't matter when thinking in private, but in public discourse it can be problematic. But of course, in the end, real-thinking is something that everybody has to do for themselves.

Or not.


It is therefore often necessary to infer the premises of an argument which is being evaluated; and to check whether this fits with what people actually do, how they actually proceed. And ignore what they say they are doing.

I have noticed that argument in the usual style of argument pretends to objectivity, while in practice enforcing the most extreme subjectivity. It prevents a person from ever getting to the point of making an overall comparison of the arguments in the sense of how they work-out in their consequences.

In other words, the usual style of argument serves permanently to block even very clear and obvious truth and reality.

IF, however, you can get past the usual method, and compare the outcomes of rival premises, then things are, sometimes, very much clearer and comprehensible.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Tolkien a lunatic? Some would say...


Beauty as an index of the *quality* of Goodness

Following from:

Beauty has quantitative and qualitative aspects.

The Beauty of a great Gothic Cathedral such as York Minister

 is quite different from the Beauty of Briggflatts, the seventeenth century Quaker Meeting House:

Both are very beautiful; and the Beauty of each indicates - because it derives from and is an expression of - the nature of the devout Christian denomination from which each was sprung.

The richness, complexity, intellectuality, hierarchy, formality of Medieval Western Catholic Christianity (conceived in the 13th Century) - compared with the simplicity and plainness and clear-burning individualistic intensity of early Quaker spirituality.

So the Beauty of the best buildings is a precise-but-incomplete picture of the faith which enabled that Beauty to be achieved.


The best of modern Christian spirituality is - in my opinion - to be found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; however I have not personally explored or experienced any of their meeting houses or main Temples (analogous to cathedrals) in the way I have explored the two examples above.

But I would say that it looks from photographs as if the most beautiful of Mormon architecture reflects the quality of the LDS faith as precisely as do the above two examples.

It seems to me that the best Mormon architecture is as exact (albeit incomplete) a picture of the faith as are York Minster or Briggflatts - and therefore the gives us a picture of both the quantity and the qualities of the best Christianity which is attainable in the modern world.


To make a comparison between denominations using Beauty as an index, it would be necessary to 'control for' time and place: modern conceptualizations compared, and in the same locations.

There would be one question of which was the most beautiful, but the other and equally important questions would refer to the nature of Beauty, the distinctive quality of Beauty.

(For example - it is when a building is conceptualized that is most relevant and revealing - not when it is completed. Creation is very different from implementations; creation is very different from copying.)

So the comparison would need to be modern US Mormon architecture (or other form of production) with modern US Catholics and Quakers - and would involve an empathic feeling as the basis of comparison.

I think such a comparison would bring out and clarify many of the active and operative qualities in these denominations - their biases and incompletenesses, as well as their strengths and depths.


The same matter of quality applies to the Beauty of women.

Of the four beautiful females described in Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien - the richest and deepest Beauty is ascribed to the golden-haired wise and ancient elf women Galadriel who represents Morning - as she was born in Valinor and came to Middle Earth as one of the first High Elves; and also to the dark-haired and younger Arwen (in some sense reincarnating Luthien) who represent the twilight of the High Elves in Middle Earth and the mixing of elves with Angels and Men.

There is also Goldberry - wife of Tom Bombadil, who has Beauty of a different order: more earthy, spontaneous and primal - as befits a (probable) nature spirit (the spirit of the river, of water).

Eowyn has the fresh, ephemeral, immensely-courageous yet near-despairing beauty characteristic of Mankind - she is probably the most intensely beautiful of all these women: with the brief and burning intensity of a flame.


Properly understood; the quantity of Beauty is a measure of Goodness, and the quality of Beauty is an index of the nature of Goodness - and when comparing Beauty with Beauty, quality is often the more revealing comparison.

After all, if something is Beautiful, that is enough; and there is something wrong about applying a ruler to actual Beauty, or trying to put real Beauties into rank order.


JRR Tolkien - an "unfortunate" man? (in 1936)


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Beauty as an index of Godliness (and goodness)


Wells Cathedral, Somerset

Since Beauty is as aspect of The Good, then it is an index of Godliness - no less than virtue.

And the creation of Beauty is something very special.

By and large, modern Man sometimes inhabits beauty:

[Merton College, Oxford - from The Meadows]

But cannot match the beauty of the past.

Well, so be it. Modern Man is not as Good as men of the past were Good - nor is he as intelligent, nor as creative; so he cannot match such Beauty.


But what modern Man does is revealing of the state of his soul.

Modern man, sometimes from spite, but sometimes from ingrained active evil (from having come to believe that ugliness is beauty, and beauty is kitsch) does not even try to create beauty. Rather he sabotages Beauty by juxtaposing ugliness, and destroys Beauty where he dares; and makes ugliness by which he reveals the true state of his soul.

The soul-crushing vileness, the nihilism of the modern built environment - its architecture, the planning, its aspirations - is an index of the true state of modern man.

The proliferation of concrete and glass office block in drab colours, with no windows and open-plan design is a precise image of the souls of the managers, the bureaucrats, the politicians, the planners and architects who designed and built it - just as the Cathedrals and Colleges of medieval England are an exact image of the souls of those who wanted and made them.


Modern Beauty is not so rich, deep, intense or satisfying as ancient Beauty - how could it be? - there is at best in our work a lightness, a sunny-coolness, a child-like naivete...  yet a society lives in the creation of Beauty and there is a perennial freshness in any genuine and heart-felt attempt to Make Beautiful Things whether they are pictures, movies, poems, stories, pieces of music, of buildings.

[Civic Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne]

I find it nauseating that the anti-Good inhabitants, the thieving, monopolizing colonists of ancient and religious Beauty, appropriate and exploit it for their ugly, lying and wicked programmes. 

When the secular Leftist occupiers of the English Cathedrals and Colleges, built in the past and on devout Christianity, advertise their destructive agendas using the prestige and awesomeness of Christian creativity; they boast of that which they despise in order the better to subvert traditional values and true religion. 

They do not own Beauty, they are not even trying to make Beauty - they are a bunch of pirates, looters, carpetbaggers; who regard Beauty as - at best - a resource to be mined; and at worst and increasingly as a backdrop to gleeful vandalism. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

How people get trapped by the meaninglessness of their lives

The things people do to avoid facing up to the meaninglessness they are afraid of destroy their possibility of finding meaning.

From a comment by Adam G

The asymmetry of religious and secular politics

 A religious politics is one that tries to establish the conditions necessary for the practice of - and beyond that the thriving of - its religion. And the religion provides the meaning and purpose of life.

By contrast, secular politics has not meaning or purpose - it is a means not an end, and it is a means which denies the reality of ends.

In practice, therefore, secular politics never stops, it just keep on expanding - secular politics is totalitarian by its nature. Yet this totalitarianism is not about meaning or purpose - it is about means to an end which is denied.

So, secular politics might be about freedom (or equality) - but cannot answer the question 'freedom for what' (or equality for what?) - but must assert that freedom (or equality) is in and of itself good, and that there cannot be too much of it - so everything is about wrangles over whether or not policy x truly increases 'freedom'/ 'equality'.

Politics becomes a fight over definitions, and definitions are arbitrary and incomplete and biased - yet definitions direct policy because there is nothing else to direct it. So with secular politics there is a totalitarianism of definitions which, actually, nobody believes in - and the only alternative is another set of definitions.

(And this model itself contains the definition of 'religion' - a real religion is one which can coherently, without leading to paradox, provide meaning and purpose to politics. SO the traditional monotheistic religions are religions in this sense, while ideologies such as communism, fascism, socialism, liberal democracy are revealed as not really being religions.)

Monday, 18 August 2014

A deep aphorism

From Lord Vader (!)

Happiness consists of joy and sorrow, while unhappiness consists of pleasure and misery.

The Old Straight Track


When I read Alan Garner's Moon of Gomrath fantasy novel

it was about 1974 - and therefore the wonderful description of The Old Straight Track was something arcane.

The end of the book referenced this idea to Alfred Watkins book of the same name; and my history teacher told me that the OST idea was unproven, but not disproved either.


The OST idea was that English people of ancient prehistory, probably neolithic, had made long distance, straight roads across the landscape, using a simple surveying method requiring just sticks - and navigating from one sacred point of high ground to another.

These points could be identified by the presence of ancient landscape features such as burial mounds, stone circles, and - it was said - the site of old Christian churches (which were assumed to have been built on these same sites).

The tracks could therefore be located using 1 inch to 1 mile maps (supplemented by two and a half inches to the mile detailed maps) - by trying to find straight lines that joined ancient landscape features, especially on hill tops.

A minimum of three 'points' was needed - but the more the better. Then you were supposed to walk the track, preferably with a camera, to look for other features and assess plausibility.


So I started hunting for Old Straight Tracks, using an Ordnance Survey maps of the Mendip Hills in Somerset - I just found this actual map a few days ago, and it is covered in neat pencil circles drawn with a compass around ancient sites and churches, and with a cross-cross of straight pencil lines trying to join them. The Mendip Hills are extraordinarily rich in these sites, so I managed to find a few possibilities.

What is interesting about this episode are the negatives.

I was looking for prehistoric Old Straight Tracks - and not 'Ley Lines'.

I don't think I had ever heard of Ley Lines. But Ley Lines are not exactly the same as The Old Straight Tracks, as originally described by Watkins; because he was talking about roads, while Ley Lines were/are conceptualized as primarily energy/ spiritual phenomena.


The second negative is related to this. My Mendip map included Glastonbury, and it would now seem blatantly obvious that Glastonbury - especially the Tor - ought to be a major focus for Old Straight Tracks or Ley Lines - yet I did not circle it!

This is because in the middle 1970s, Glastonbury had not become the nationally/ internationally known focus of New Age people and ideas it has since become. Or more exactly, the status of Glastonbury as a spiritual/ religious centre was only just coming out of a rather low ebb of a few decades - because it had been well known in the 1920s and 30s as evidenced by the early Glastonbury Festivals of Rutland Boughton and associated mysticism, and the great mega-novel A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys - but both of these were pretty much unknown (The reviving Picador paperback reprint of GR came only in 1975).


So my annotated map of Old Straight Tracks is something of an historical artefact. If it had been done just a few years later, I would have had to accept a spiritual dimension (or baggage) along with the Old Straight Tracks, and I would probably have assumed that any valid STRs in Somerset would be converging-on or radiating-out-from Glastonbury.

By the way - I personally no longer think it plausible that the ancient English did use straight roads, and in official circles the idea is nowadays generally regarded as untrue and having no significant support.

Which is a bit of a shame. However, among the New Age spiritual folk, in the form of Ley Lines, OSTs are sometimes a major focus of belief; and are referenced in dozens of books as the major theme, and hundreds or thousands of books as a significant phenomenon - being applied internationally and not just to Brtain.

'Ley Lines' is now almost a household word - albeit in a rather low status and 'flaky' kind of way.

So Alfred Watkins speculations have been a spectacular success - but in an extremely different domain of knowledge from that he envisaged when he wrote The Old Straight Track in 1925.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dreams as another world

Subjectively, phenomenologically, dreaming mostly seems like another world.

To drop-into a dream is to drop into an on-going' narrative - something which was already-going before I began to dream it, and which continues after I waken.

Also, dreams usually feel like another time, another place, and without connection with my waking life except for it being 'me'.

(A few dreams are connected with waking life, but these are rarer and seem to be shorter and less complex - the kind of dreams I get when frequently dozing and waking.)

In commonsense terms, dreams feel like the mind goes somewhere else - moves in space and time, in dreams I am both a time traveler and a place traveler; in other words that experiences of 'shamans' are the normal experiences of dreams.

(This sounds much more exciting than it really is. My major experience of dreams is boredom and futility - just b&f in other times and places.)


Saturday, 16 August 2014

The basic set-up of the modern world: isolating people, inducing them to yield to temptation, then ensuring that they do not repent

The basic set-up of the modern world has been well-designed to induce people to choose their own damnation - which is actively to reject the salvation that Christ has already won for each of us.

It is not easy to do this, because any and all sins can be repented, and in that sense anybody can be saved.

Yet it certainly looks as if a lot of modern people do not want to be saved - that they will reject salvation because they have been persuaded that good is evil; and vice versa.


The situation is most extreme among the ruling elites. And the situation is mediated by the Mass Media.

The basic set-up is to ensure that young people leave home without getting married and without any commitment to the church - that they leave home, typically to go to college - and that the environment they live-in is meaningless, purposeless, and lacking in any real human relationships.

Instead, there is a pleasure-pain axis of discernment - and an expectation that those who are of high status are those who experience pleasure; and high status pleasure is mainly about sex, travel and intoxication. 


When somebody leaves home to go to college they seldom have any commitment to the subject they study - in fact they study a smorgasbord or smattering of subjects which by definition cannot have an overall meaning. So work is ruled-out as a source of meaning and purpose. Work is meaningless and merely passing exams and getting grades does not substitute - that cannot possibly be the primary focus of a life.


And because marriage is ruled-out, and celibacy is despised, there is no meaning to relationships except pleasure - at least diversion, but the aim is ecstasy.

So the sexual life becomes a purposeless, meaningless search for emotions - fighting against the tendency of humans to habituate to pleasure - to get used to pleasure and stop responding.

Thus relationships become serial exploitations - perhaps mutual exploitations (that is supposed to be the 'moral' type of relationship), perhaps attempts to get what you want - a lot of it and frequently and with variety - without giving anything away (this is the high status form of modern relationship).


Travel has become a vital part of the currency of modern youth life - it offers variety, stimulus, it promises to overcome habituation - and it includes hope of sex with new people and of intoxication without consequences. 


Sex and travel are rare, expensive, hard to attain (which is why they function as status symbols) - and because euphoria is available in bottled form and as pills, intoxication becomes de facto the actual aimed-at hope for more and more people. People spend their lives anticipating obliteration of their own self-awareness, and recollecting previous successes in this area.

But it is difficult to make this out to be a high status and admirable thing to do, but fortunately the mass media have provided the necessary resources. And so long as intoxication is fun, and no higher purpose than fun is regarded as real - then intoxication becomes a kind of bottom-line.


So, modern people live in an environment in which they are:

1. Existentially alone. Not married and no family, no (real) friends, no church, not even any aim to get these.

2. In a world where the highest value and hope is to travel, have sex with multiple desirable partners, and beomce intoxicated.

3. In sum - they are empty yet surrounded by temptations, utterly isolated, and having no reason not to yield.

In a nutshell, everybody does yield - sooner or later: 'everybody' falls into this hedonic and meaningless and purposeless life.  


AND THEN, the mass media does its most important work, because none of this would matter if it was repented. If the futile, comfort- and sensation-seeking life was recognized as evil and rejected.

But what actually happens is that the futile life of desperation is depicted as good, cool, fun, the best - in a million media outlets.

So to recognize futility and separation as evil; and to restore meaning, purpose and marriage and family relations as the proper purpose of earthly life and religion as the proper purpose of mortality; is regarded as the only real evil.

In sum, the basic set-up of the modern world is that the evil, futile, meaningless life of self-subversion is depicted as good; and therefore the only recognized evil is to subvert the life of self-subversion.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Discernment, or the inner guidance-system - knowing the right thing to do, and when we are off-course. Predictive and corrective guidance

Discernment is the ability to know the right thing to do - in fact to know the right thing and distinguish it from wrong things: especially wrong things in disguise. Discernment can be imagined as our guidance-system.

Many traditional Christian denominations and churches are set-up on the basis that we will be taught the right things, and given good advice, by those in authority - so the guidance system comes from priest and pastors - and sometimes from Kings and judges too.

But the modern world is characterized by the fact that it is precisely those in authority who are most deeply wicked; who are teaching the wrong things, giving bad advice (advice to be bad), and punishing good behaviour - they are not just muddling-up the right and wrong things, but deliberately reversing the labels...

And the modern world is huge, noisy, distracting, and the good and the right are mixed with, and almost lost in, much larger quantities of their opposites.


So the modern condition is characterized by a greater-than-ever need for a guidance system; while at the same time traditional guidance systems have been subverted and sabotaged.

One single source of guidance is inadequate, because all guidance is general and imprecise, and there will always be ambiguities and uncertainties when specific situation are tested against general rules.

The inadequacy, insufficiency, distortedness of trying to be guided wholly by list of laws and rules should be obvious; and furthermore it is anti-Christian to suppose that our job in Life is merely to obey - it is not.

We are each of us persons - hence unique; and our main job in Life (having accepted the reality and Goodness of God) it is to chisel-out our our own 'salvation', that is to follow the path of theosis, sanctification, spiritual progression or deification - towards the goal of becoming Sons of God and able and worthy of living with and communicating with God - person with person.

So in pursuing this complex path through a complex world; we need a multi-level, multi-step guidance system - and, luckily, we have one:


Knowing God's nature

If we have a reasonably clear understanding of the kind of person God is; what he is like and what he wants from us, and the attributes he most values in us (love above all, intelligence, strength, creativity etc)  - then this provides the general background and basis for our guidance.

In particular, God being our loving Father and we his children whom he wants to raise to be Sons of God and 'divine friends' - this understanding rules out a lot of false, deceptive and just-plain-mistaken teachings.

Then we communicate with God by prayer.


Knowing God is in us

If God was out there, and could only reach us by the normal methods of communication - then our situation would be hopeless.

But God is within us - he has planted a glowing coal of His divine nature in each person.

Once we know this glowing coal of divinity is in each of us, we can learn to feel and abide by its guidance - with attention to its promptings, through quiet contemplation and listening, by sensitivity to intuition sent from it, by meditation.


Our free will, agency, autonomy operating on personal revelation

Personal revelation can be grounded in firstly the faith that God is a real person and also within us, and knowing the general direction of God's wishes and hopes for us; and secondly recognizing our own radical autonomy to decide what to do about this.

We know something of God's nature, and we feel something of God in us - and then we are able, and indeed we must and do choose either to recognize God's will, and ally ourselves with Him in His hope for us and for the world - or we oppose it.



Synchronicity is one important but neglected mode of personal revelation.

(Is you, here, now, reading this an example of synchronicity?)

Meaningful, enlightening, and Good coincidences occur and show us the proper or best path life lays before us through the world.

Representing fate, destiny - all these in a wholesome sense because always entailing and requiring our personal choice, decision, whether or not to follow this path.

Good choices are rewarded: when synchronicity is recognized, and when the decision is good, then Life becomes enhanced, infused with a kind of 'magic'.

The channels of communication between ourselves and God open-up, and our path becomes clearer both before and behind us - as if lit by an inner glow.  


Personal Revelation

Personal revelation (God's multi-modal communications to us, personally, for our personal guidance and benefits) takes us from the general to the specific. Takes us from the general knowledge of the kind of thing we must do, and must not do; to specific personal guidance about what exactly we must do, or not do.


We have a superb, flexible, infallible, guidance system!

But, typically, Life is trial and error, and discernment works by zig-zags.

We are engaged with Life, and we make mistakes and we sin due to ignorance, weakness, short-termism - and deliberately too, as an act of defiance.

But as we err and sin - we also discern our sins and errors, and can repent them, and repudiate them. Almost certainly, we will not be able altogether to stop making mistakes and stop yielding to temptations - but that is not what is asked of us nor what we are equipped to do.

We are equipped to try our best but make mistakes, to try our best but yield to sins - and then for discernment to make clear to us what we have done, so that we can (and do) know what was good and what we must repent.


So, our guidance system will lead us to good choices, but it is not perfect and neither is our will; and then the guidance systems will discern what has happened, and reveal our situation so we can do the right thing.

In sum our guidance system - like all sophisticated and really-useful guidance systems - has a predictive element which tells us what to aim at and do; but also a retrospective and corrective element: which alerts us when we are aiming off-course or have travelled down a wrong path and points the direction to get back on course or states the need to stop, turn around and retrace our steps.


(When I say corrected, I do not mean reversible - because once done mistake and sins, like everything else, are permanent. But by the atonement of Jesus Christ, repentance negates any and all sin. Thus - the major function of discernment is not avoidance but repentance.)


Our guidance system is therefore superb and infallible when taken as a whole and understanding its proper function - including both the predictive but also the corrective elements as back-up. 

We will make mistakes because the predictive element is imperfect, and we will make mistakes because of our imperfect and sinful nature and the difficulties of our situation - but these mistakes will always be detectable and correctable because the back-up element is an intrinsic part of the guidance system.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Electronic amplification and imaging interpose between lecturer and class - therefore lecturing is better in real time; with living voice and hand writing, without microphones or slides

Lecturing should be like theatre - not cinema.

The best way to lecture is in real time - as one person to others, in the same room, in direct sensory contact, and with the living voice; and writing in real time on a black- or white-board; therefore not through a microphone; not using slides nor other pre-prepared material.

Electronic amplification and imaging interpose between lecturer and class.


Can you imagine sitting talking to a friend or family member, and that family member was talking to you through a microphone, so that you heard only their amplified voice! Imagine how that would distance the other person from you even if they were sitting right next to you.

Consider the difference between seeing a person on something like Skype, and in real life?

And with writing there is a difference between somebody writing you a note - here and now, done for you - and handing you a printed leaflet which they prepared earlier.

And there is a difference between looking at that note as it is sitting in front of you, and seeing an image of that note - enlarged on a screen, several or many yards away.


The technologies of imaging and amplification interpose between one person and another - they just do; always they block (to some significant extent) direct, real time, here-and-now interaction.

Somehow, this even applies to electronic books or readers such as the Kindle, when compared with paper copies. It just does - even despite that in theory the electronic page looks almost like a printed page.


To some extent we can be-fooled and can fool-ourselves that electronic reproductions are 'the same' as direct perceptual contact - but only to some extent.

If we use electronic media to experience reality, it sets a cap on the reality of real life. When lecturing is an electronic experience, then there is a cap on its perceived reality.

Electronic amplification and imaging interpose between lecturer and class, therefore amplification and imaging should if possible not be used; and if amplification or imaging must be used - then it should be acknowledged that these technologies are necessarily diminishing and sub-optimal.


The epidemic of 'antidepressant'/ SSRI-triggered suicides by hanging: hidden in plain sight


The suicide by hanging of Robin Williams while (reportedly) being treated for depression brings this to mind, Williams apparently following the similar and very rare suicide method used by Mick Jagger's girlfriend, L'Wren Scott.


The overall suicide rate is going down, but the rate of suicide by hanging is going-up

There is a stereotypical pattern of SSRI triggered suicides - which used to be rare but is now becoming much more common:

On March 17th L’Wren Scott hung herself in her Manhattan apartment. She hung herself from a door handle. Hanging with your feet or body on the ground is a classic antidepressant MO when it comes to suicide. Hanging in this way led Pfizer to claim that Matt Miller, a 13 year old boy, hadn’t committed suicide but had died from auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong. It has led people in Bridgend and Wales to speculate on the influence of Satanic cults to explain the rash of bizarre suicides there. What happens is this. Antidepressants trigger thoughts of self-harm. These thoughts can vary from the mild to the malignant. The drugs can trigger thoughts like this in perfectly normal people, who have rarely if ever thought of harming themselves. Partly because these are such unfamiliar thoughts, someone like Matt Miller, Yvonne Woodley or L’Wren Scott can play with them by attaching a noose around their neck and leaning forward to see what it would be like. But leaning forward like this can put pressure on the carotid bodies, cause a person to lose consciousness, slip forward and asphyxiate.


The rate of prescription of drugs as a whole is going down, but the rate of prescription of antidepressants (SSRIs and similar) is going up, and probably faster than any other  major group of drugs - despite its being three decades since their introduction.

This is almost-certainly due to drug dependence.

It is difficult to stop taking SSRIs after taking a significant dose for several months to due withdrawal effects - which may be severe.

Therefore, once people have been on SSRIs for a while, they tend to stay on them forever.

Prescriptions for SSRIs therefore accumulate: each new antidepressant user tending to become a permanent user, each new prescription for antidepressant tending to become a permanent prescription.


(To summarize a lot of literature) SSRIs overall cause, and do not prevent, suicide.

Suicide rates are known to be high in people with moderate to severe melancholia/ endogenous depression - but these severely depressed people are very rare (less than one percent prevalence) and almost always treated as hospital inpatients; and SSRIs are ineffective (they do not work) in inpatient, endogenous depression.


In practice SSRIs are given to a large group of about 15 percent of the population outside of hospital, in general practice and outpatient psychiatry - people who suffer unpleasant symptoms such as anxiety, worry, severe and unpleasant mood swings, chronic unhappiness, guilt and so on - people in distress but people who continue to live at home, continue to look after themselves, often continue to work.

This group of SSRI-users do not intrinsically have a raised suicide rate - if they were not taking drugs, they would be no more likely to kill themselves than normal controls.


It is thoroughly established that SSRIs increase suicide rates.

This was known during their pre-marketing trials. It is officially acknowledged that SSRIs should not be given to children and young people due to increased suicide risk

There are plausible pharmacological and psychological reasons to explain why SSRIs can trigger suicide, and these symptoms have also been found when healthy volunteers take the drugs as well as among patients with psychological symptoms.


So, SSRIs do not prevent suicide, and they are only useful in a group of people who do not have a raised risk of suicide; but SSRIs are dependence-producing and prescriptions are growing faster than any other major drug, and they do increase the risk of suicide and the suicide is often of a violent, unusual, impulsive nature (most stereotypically casing death by asphyxiation by hanging from a kneeling position) and the suicide may be out-of character for that person, and indeed comes out-of-the-blue.


In conclusion there is a very high visibility epidemic of what look-like SSRI-triggered suicides, now becoming visible among the rich and famous who are reportedly being treated for depression, and who kill themselves violently and unexpectedly; and yet this epidemic is hidden in plain sight.

It as if we cannot believe that a drug prescribed officially and with good intentions cannot do harm!

It is as if we assume that powerful, mind-altering, dependence-producing chemicals are necessarily innocent until proven guilty - merely because they are prescribed by a doctor!

Indeed these antidepressant-triggered suicides are generally spun into indicating the need for even-more antidepressant treatment - more treatment to 'prevent' the suicides which were actually triggered by antidepressant treatment.

The situation is Kafka-esque: the more treatment-triggered suicides, the more demand for treatment - the more suicides... 


The bad news is that suicidality is also a probable side effect of some other types of antidepressant as well as the SSRIs; and also of the antipsychotic/ neuroleptic/ 'mood stabilizer' group of drugs - which are heavily and increasingly prescribed(in multiple combinations - often five drugs together!) for the vaguely-defined pseudo-diagnosis of 'Bipolar Disorder'.


The take-home-message is that all powerful drugs have serious possible risks as well as bad inevitable side effects - and all psychoactive drugs create dependence.

Therefore they should only be used carefully (prepared to stop at signs of trouble, or when not clearly effective), at as low a dose and for as short a time as possible; and when the hoped-for benefits outweigh the certain risks - which, in practice, means only when the psychological illness is severe, debilitating, incapacitating.

And (in general) drugs which cause severe definite present side effects and have dangerous risks and cause dependence - should not be used on the excuse of 'trying to prevent future problems'.


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

How the notion of 'psychological neoteny' led me to an interest in human fertility, which led me to God

 One of the best-known ideas I came-up-with was also one of the shallowest: Psychological Neoteny.

This is the idea that in modern societies immature psychological attributes are retained into adulthood.

Psychological neoteny generated a lot of mass media interest in the UK, and ended-up featured as one of the big ideas of the year in the New York Times Magazine


The idea came from an editorial I wrote for the journal I edited: Medical Hypotheses:

You will see that - back in 2006 - I approved the trend of psychological neoteny - because I was pro-modernization, and psychological neoteny was an adaptation to the modern condition: a retention of the flexibility, adaptability and curiosity of adolescence into adulthood, leading to an economically and socially useful type of person.


I find it strange that the PN idea somehow found its way into the media. Psychological neoteny now has 8000 'hits' on Google, and somebody put it into Wikipedia - where (amazingly!) it stayed.

Yet I wrote the original article in a couple of hours and mostly as a semi-amusing curiosity - triggered by having noticed several photographs of various (adult) scientists who looked extremely boyish.


Anyway, as the year turned from 2006 towards 2007, I thought a bit harder about this idea that I had so casually thrown-off.

I discussed it a little with my e-mail pen-friend, the late Martin Trow (world expert on the sociology of higher education and a Professor at Berkeley) - who was about 80 years old at the time and full of the wisdom of experience. He made a few remarks about the experience of higher education delaying the psychological maturation process - perhaps even stopping it permanently; contrasting this with what happened early in his life (serving in the armed forces, training as an engineer etc).


I began reading around to look for a good proxy measure of psychological neoteny, and found age of marriage and age of first child (and total number of children) - which led to a follow-up editorial that shows signs of my becoming aware of the dark side of psychological neoteny, and therefore modernity itself.

My conclusion was: "At present it is unclear whether the trend for retaining youthful attitudes and behaviours is overall beneficial or harmful. There are probably social advantages from a population retaining the cognitive flexibility to cope with (or indeed enjoy) rapid change of jobs, locations and friends; and there are economic benefits from delayed parenthood in women. But there will also be social disadvantages from delayed maturity of adults, perhaps impairing social integration among men, and reducing population fertility levels. And, at the individual and personal level, the costs and benefits of PN may be different for men and women, and for people with different priorities."


But this started me thinking on the subject of marriage and families, and that the current trend was obviously unsustainable - and amounted to deliberate genetic suicide.

And about who was 'bucking the trend' for later and later marriage, later starting of families, and ever smaller families.

And this led (via, I think, the work of some 'quant bloggers' such as The Inductivist and Audacious Epigone) to Rodney Stark's research on Mormons. 


In US Mormons I found the exception to the marriage and fertility trends - but in a community that was very 'modern' in terms of many indices such as education, social class, salary, and the occupation of high status positions.

I became very interested in the matter of fertility - and later did some small scale studies of Mormon fertility in Britain:


In order to understand Mormon exceptionalism with respect to fertility, I read a lot about Mormonism. I enjoyed what I read, so I kept going. And I read Rodney Stark's book Discovering God.

I was already pretty expert on 'comparative religions' but from the perspective of New Age spirituality - and had supervised a PhD on the psychology of religiosity, which was (much later) published:

And of course I was already reading CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien...


So, all of these came together in some way and I became a theist, and then a Christian; and/ but a Christian who from the beginning regarded Mormonism as an exemplary Christian denomination of modernity; because (missing-out lots of other factors, including some very important people) it was my interest in Psychological Neoteny which led to an interest in marriage and fertility, which led to Mormonism, which led to Stark, which led to theism, which led to my conversion to Christianity.  

The gulf between creator and created - qualitative or quantitative?

For non-Christian monotheists, the gulf between God the Creator and Man - numbered among His creations - is qualitative: there is a difference in kind.

On the one hand there is God the creator; and on the other hand there is everything-else - that which He created.


But for Christians things are not so straightforward. For Christians there is the example of Christ being both God and Man - and the clear implication that there is therefore a continuum between God and Man.

This implies that the gulf between God and Man is quantitative, rather than qualitative (accepting that truly vast quantitative differences are, for almost all practical purposes, qualitative 'in effect'.)

For Christians there is also the statement, the promise, that Man can be deified; that Men can become a Sons of God - and this again implies a quantitative continuum between God and Man.


Therefore, for Christians there is ample evidence that God and Man are of the same kind, and although there is yet a truly vast quantitative gulf between - yet there is the promise and hope that this gulf can be bridged (by means of the God-Man Christ).


The problem for Christians is therefore to understand how this (truly vast) quantitative gulf may be bridged: what kind of process could explain this?

The two main ideas about how the gulf between God and man may be closed are:

1. An evolutionary spiritual progression of Man towards God spread across vast time-scales of both pre-existence, and a post-mortal life. (i.e. The Mormon solution.)


2. An evolutionary spiritual progression of Man towards God spread across mega-multiple cycles of reincarnation. (The Hindu solution, also other Far Eastern regions - and one incorporated into various modern spiritual movements such as Anthroposophy, some New Age writers, and also William Arkle.)


My point is that an acceptance of the (Christian) principle of deification and an acceptance of the centrality of spiritual progression, theosis, sanctification etc in Christian life; will, in combination, lead on to a need for explanations that:

1. Extend beyond mortal life, and

2. Extend across extremely large time-scales order to make comprehensible how a Man may become a god.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

How important is death?


How important is death?

So important that God had to become mortal and die - in order that we could be saved (to everlasting life).

This is the mystery of Christ's incarnation and atonement. Why did God need to become a Man and actually die in order to make salvation possible?

This is, I think, what seems so impossible and ridiculous to other (non-Christian) monotheists - the idea that Almighty God the creator would have to become a Man and die in order to save Mankind!

This is 'incredible', not obvious, not common sense - it is more a doctrine of the weakness of God, the limitations of God, than of His power - yet it is close to the essence of Christianity: pretty much what all Christians must believe to be Christian.

Christianity - it's literally incredible.


Lectures and Motivation

Ultimately, all real teaching beyond that of early childhood (when the child is passively being 'filled' - or inculcated - with that which society deems necessary) depends on motivation : the pupil must want to learn.

This applies very obviously to lectures. For lectures to work, to be effective, depends on the class being motivated to learn.

If the class is not motivated then they will not learn - they will daydream, doodle, flirt, engage in social networking, surf the internet... anything other than the cognitively-difficult business of paying attention and striving to understand.

If the class is not motivated, then the only way that attention can be compelled is either by terror (notably fear of failing exams and being thrown out/ disgraced) or by entertainment.

So the degenerate phenomenon of TED talks is what happens when the lecture degenerates to the point of mere entertainment - amusing, shocking, or exciting five minute sound-bites - desperately striving to grab and hold an unmotivated audience's attention. In a word: degenerate. (Or have I already said that?)

At a lower level, the need to entertain is what drives lecturers to use visual aids and multi-media - so the class sits and watches video or movie segments instead of learning.

Or, perhaps there are innovative 'teaching' methods such as getting the class to chat among themselves (break-out sessions), have votes, or do pretty much anything except learn the material - for which they have zero interest.

In sum - there are situations, many situations, in fact most situations in modern middle and higher education - in which effective lectures cannot be given, because the class does not want to know.

In those situations, lectures are perhaps no worse than the alternatives - but the whole thing is a dishonest waste of time, energy and resources; no teaching can occur, because nobody really wants it to happen (or, at least, the class don't want it enough to overcome their own natural tendencies to idleness and distractability).

Note added: My primary objection to TED talks is actually not that they have nothing to do with education; but that they are media for the mass propagation of vomit-inducing smugness.  

FYI Addicted to Distraction is currently available *cheaply* on Kindle!


Details at:

The new Kindle edition prices are:

£2.40 at in the UK, and

$4.03 at in the USA

which seems like good value to me!

(Remember that I personally make no money at all from this book - but I like the publishers to get a reasonable return; and also - naturally - I want people to read it...)


Inept harmony in David Bowie - and good stuff in The La's and Duran Duran


The harmonization of the chorus of David Bowie's single Ashes to Ashes is simply inept - turgid, glutinous, suffocating (against the meaning of the words). From 1:00:

But actually the harmonization is pretty bad throughout, there is a sense of the whole thing collapsing under the weight of sheer thickness of texture .

At times, indeed, it is almost as bad as Brahms (heh).


Contrast what good harmonization can do: The chorus of The La's on the phrase, which is also the song's title: There she goes - this is the only thing that makes the song memorable, and the only thing that makes the chorus good is the way that the harmony opens out.

(Actually, the way that the lead singer moves into falsetto as the melody rises is another positive element.)

Or Duran Duran's Girls on Film - when, again, the title-chorus is good almost purely because of the harmony (from 0:50):


Conclusion: Good pop songs are not just about melody and rhythm - but harmony sometimes comes into it too: just think of the Beach Boys or The Beatles.