Rely on Reason

It is important for us to rely upon facts as the realm of mystic and faith is vulnerable to abuse and manipulation. To support this, I draw upon Galileo’s experience and the myth of Apophis.

Galileo

In 1615, Galileo discovered that “the sun remains motionless at the center of the revolutions of the celestial globes, and that the earth both turns on its own axis and revolves around the sun.”

As the discovery contradicted commonly held views, detractors began to “spread abroad the idea that these propositions are contrary to Holy Scripture and therefore to be condemned as heretical” and they found “others who were prepared to declare from the pulpit, with uncharacteristic confidence, that they were indeed to be condemned as heretical.” […]

In addition, “They pretend not to know that its author – or rather the one who revived and confirmed it – was Nicolaus Copernicus, a man who was not just a Catholic but a priest and a canon.” […]

Hence Galileo had no choice but to make a case for himself. He remarked, “It seems to me that the starting point in disputes concerning problems in natural science should not be the authority of scriptural texts but the experience of the senses and necessary demonstrations. For while Holy Scripture and nature proceed alike from the divine word…it is agreed that Scripture, in order to be understood by the multitude, says many things which are apparently and in the literal sense of the words at variance with absolute truth. Nature, on the other hand, never transgresses the laws to which it is subject, but is inexorable and unchanging, quite indifferent to whether its hidden reasons and ways of working are accessible to human understanding or not.” […]

“So I do beg these most prudent Fathers to consider very carefully the difference between statements that are a matter of opinion and those which can be demonstrated. If they keep in mind the strength of logical deduction, they will better understand why it is not in the power of those who profess the demonstrative sciences to change their opinion at will.”

The unbending spirit of Galileo in his maintenance of scientific observation and truth, reminds us that we should too be fact finders and defend truth with reason.

Apophis

In Ancient Egypt, Apophis or Apep was the spirit of evil, darkness and destruction who threatened to destroy the sun god, Ra.  It was associated with several frightening natural events, such as the unexplained darkness of the solar eclipse, storms and earthquakes. It was depicted as a huge serpent, all-powerful and impossible to overcome.

To defeat Apep, priests of Ra would conduct an annual ritual: “Banishing Apep”. An effigy of Apep would be taken into the temple and imbued with all of the evil of the land. The effigy would then beaten, crushed smeared with mud and burned.

After learning of this myth, I felt great sympathy for Apep. It was the scapegoat for all that it could not control; its name cursed and its image crucified for natural events that were bound to happen. Hence, it is important to have knowledge. We have come a long way from the times of Gods and myths, but our human nature remains the same. We still retain some irrational fear, some imagination; yet all must be in moderation and reason shall inform most of our modern lives.

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Laugh!

“As we suffered with a friend his deep moments of loneliness and grief, that awful renunciation of life itself, we each of us acquired, almost instinctually, a deeper and richer capacity for joy, for humour, for laughter. When you have so little you find joy in insignificant things.” – Brian Keenan, An Evil Cradling

Pleasure of Knowledge

“We have no knowledge, that is, no general principles drawn from the contemplation of particular facts, but what has been built up by pleasure and exists in us by pleasure alone…the knowledge both of the poet and the man of science is pleasure…poetry is the first and last of all knowledge – it is as immortal as the heart of man.” – Lyrical Ballads by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth

It is valuable to born again this pleasure – of accumulation and making sense of knowledge. This self-motivated endeavour enriches one’s soul as well as mind, and makes one a more wholesome being. Also, to derive by instinct an understanding of the world; to uncover truths between lines of poetry; is mysterious and exciting. It gives one the opportunity to be an explorer in this set world, and to discover for himself his own philosophy. 

Wilde’s Romantic Characterisation of Jesus

As Easter approaches, let us remember the romantic characterisation of Jesus by Oscar Wilde in De Profundis:

Christ’s place indeed is with the poets. His whole conception of Humanity sprang right out of the imagination and can only be realised by it. What God was to the pantheist, man was to Him. He was the first to conceive the divided races as a unity […] More than any one else in history he wakes in us that temper of wonder to which romance always appeals. There is still something to me almost incredible in the idea of a young Galilean peasant imagining that he could bear on his own shoulders the burden of the entire world; all that had already been done and suffered, and all that was yet to be done and suffered: […] : oppressed nationalities, factory children, thieves, people in prison, outcasts, those who are dumb under oppression and whose silence is heard only of God; and not merely imagining this but actually achieving it, so that at the present moment all who come in contact with his personality, even though they may neither bow to his altar nor kneel before his priest, in some way find that the ugliness of their sin is taken away and the beauty of their sorrow revealed to them.

I had said of Christ that he ranks with the poets. That is true. Shelley and Sophocles are of his company. But his entire life also is the most wonderful of poems. For ‘pity and terror’ there is nothing in the entire cycle of Greek tragedy to touch it. The absolute purity of the protagonist raises the entire scheme to a height of romantic art from which the sufferings of Thebes and Pelops’ line are by their very horror excluded, and shows how wrong Aristotle was when he said in his treatise on the drama that it would be impossible to bear the spectacle of one blameless in pain. […] The little supper with his companions, one of whom has already sold him for a price; the anguish in the quiet moon-lit garden; the false friend coming close to him so as to betray him with a kiss; the friend who still believed in him, and on whom as on a rock he had hoped to build a house of refuge for Man, denying him as the bird cried to the dawn; his own utter loneliness, his submission, his acceptance of everything; and along with it all such scenes as the high priest of orthodoxy rending his raiment in wrath, and the magistrate of civil justice calling for water in the vain hope of cleansing himself of that stain of innocent blood that makes him the scarlet figure of history; the coronation ceremony of sorrow, one of the most wonderful things in the whole of recorded time; the crucifixion of the Innocent One before the eyes of his mother and of the disciple whom he loved; the soldiers gambling and throwing dice for his clothes; the terrible death by which he gave the world its most eternal symbol; and his final burial in the tomb of the rich man, his body swathed in Egyptian linen with costly spices and perfumes as though he had been a king’s son. When one contemplates all this from the point of view of art alone one cannot but be grateful that the supreme office of the Church should be the playing of the tragedy without the shedding of blood: the mystical presentation, by means of dialogue and costume and gesture even, of the Passion of her Lord; and it is always a source of pleasure and awe to me to remember that the ultimate survival of the Greek chorus, lost elsewhere to art, is to be found in the servitor answering the priest at Mass.

Yet the whole life of Christ – so entirely may sorrow and beauty be made one in their meaning and manifestation – is really an idyll, though it ends with the veil of the temple being rent, and the darkness coming over the face of the earth, and the stone rolled to the door of the sepulchre. One always thinks of him as a young bridegroom with his companions, as indeed he somewhere describes himself; as a shepherd straying through a valley with his sheep in search of green meadow or cool stream; as a singer trying to build out of the music the walls of the City of God; or as a lover for whose love the whole world was too small. His miracles seem to me to be as exquisite as the coming of spring, and quite as natural. I see no difficulty at all in believing that such was the charm of his personality that his mere presence could bring peace to souls in anguish, and that those who touched his garments or his hands forgot their pain; […].

Renan in his VIE DE JESUS – that gracious fifth gospel, the gospel according to St. Thomas, one might call it – says somewhere that Christ’s great achievement was that he made himself as much loved after his death as he had been during his lifetime. And certainly, if his place is among the poets, he is the leader of all the lovers. He saw that love was the first secret of the world for which the wise men had been looking, and that it was only through love that one could approach either the heart of the leper or the feet of God.

And above all, Christ is the most supreme of individualists. Humility, like the artistic, acceptance of all experiences, is merely a mode of manifestation. It is man’s soul that Christ is always looking for. He calls it ‘God’s Kingdom,’ and finds it in every one. He compares it to little things, to a tiny seed, to a handful of leaven, to a pearl. That is because one realises one’s soul only by getting rid of all alien passions, all acquired culture, and all external possessions, be they good or evil.”

Tourette Syndrome X Technology

With reference to my previous post on persons with Tourette syndrome, I have the following experience to share:

One afternoon, as I was on the train to work, I heard repetitive guttural sounds. It was as if one was trying to remove something stuck in one’s throat. It was so obtrusive that passengers looked about, to find out from whom the sounds emerged. After several minutes of furtive glances, to my shock and possibly to other’s, it was from a young teenager. He was seated opposite me, in a lax manner, with a floor-ball stick in hand. He looked absolutely healthy with his tanned skin and athletic build. Yet upon observation, one could see the throat movements as the sounds were made, uncontrollably. He had his eyes fixed on his mobile phone, just like any other teenager, and that possibly helped him ignore these looks and stares.

It made me realise the benefits of this unconnected, detached, mobile-phone absorbed world. We have basically spared one other of embarrassment, most of the time. We no longer have to stare at each other’s faces or confront what we do not want to see or know. We now have the social right to remain isolated, cold and non-engaging. This must have spared the young man great embarrassment.

Ironically, with the phone, he can be connected, fully and normally, with his peers without being hindered by his tics. Without instant messengers, he probably wouldn’t be able to communicate without interruption. Without social media profiles, he may never be as cool as he wanted to, in real life. Technology has enabled him, and that is to be celebrated.

Oliver Sacks was a Druggy

As gleaned from Hallucinations:

His first drug experience was in 1953 when his childhood friend, Eric Korn went up to Oxford to visit him. They each took 25 micrograms of LSD and felt nothing, for the dosage was too small.

Starting a neurology residency in 1962, he became increasingly curious about the effects of hallucinogenic drugs.

He began with cannabis. He took two puffs of a friend’s joint and saw that his hand was getting larger and larger and moving away from him. He could see a hand stretched across the universe, light-years or parsecs in length. It looked like a human hand yet it seemed like the hand of God. His first pot experience was a mix of the neurological and the divine.

Then, he began to sample LSD and morning glory seeds as they were readily available. Once, a friend told him to try Artane for a “really far-out experience’, asserting that one will still be in partial control with a dose of twenty pills. So one Sunday morning, Oliver took twenty pills. He expected disorganisation and paranoia but besides a dry mouth, large pupils and finding it difficult to read, he felt nothing. Then, he heard a knocking on his door and found his friends Jim and Kathy dropping by for breakfast. He made them ham and eggs, walked to the living room and found it completely empty. He had not thought that Jim and Kathy’s “presences” were unreal. He was shocked and frightened, as this did not happen with LSD and other drugs. He said to himself “Take yourself in hand. Don’t let this happen again.” Then, he heard the sound of a chopper and thought his parents had flown from London to give him a surprise visit. As he rushed out to greet them, he found that it was empty. The silence and emptiness, the disappointment, reduced him to tears. He then went back into the house and a spider on the kitchen wall caught his attention. It began to speak to him and they had a conversation on analytic philosophy.

As he was working as a resident at UCLA’s neurology department, he avoided drugs during the week and often experimented with them during the weekends.

One Saturday in 1964, he developed a concoction of amphetamine, LSD and cannabis. After about twenty minutes, he saw the colour of indigo. He was overwhelmed as he thought it a colour of heaven, of which Giotto had spent a lifetime trying to get but never achieved. He thought it was the colour of the Palaeozoic sea, the colour the ocean used to be. Suddenly, the colour disappeared and he was left with an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness.

One day, he took a hefty dose of Heavenly Blue morning glory seeds with vanilla ice cream. After about twenty minutes, he found himself in a realm of paradisiacal stillness and beauty. At this time, he saw an a taxi backing up the steep trail to his house. An elderly woman got out of the taxi and he ran towards her shouting “I know who you are – you are a replica of Augusta Bonnard… You look like her but you are not her. I am not deceived for a moment.”  Augusta then got back into the taxi and took off. The next time Augusta met Oliver, she asserted that his failure to recognise her was psychotic. Also, his habit of taking mind-altering drugs every weekend, alone and in high doses, testified to some intense inner needs or conflicts.

In the summer of 1965, he had three months of break. In this idle time, Oliver descended deeper into drug taking, no longer confining it to weekends. He tried intravenous injection of several vials of morphine. Then, he hallucinated hundreds, thousands of men – two armies, two nations – preparing to battle. He did not realise he was merely staring at a spot on the sleeve of his dressing gown and laying in bed. He felt that the drug effect was fading fast, yet when he woke, it was ten, the next day. He had been gazing, motionless, for more than twelve hours. This shocked and sobered him, and it became his first and last opium experience.

In the December of 1965, he was having a difficult time. He was depressed and insomniac, and was taking ever-increasing amounts of chloral hydrate to get to sleep. It was up to fifteen times the usual dose every night. One Tuesday, a little before Christmas, he ran out supply. He went to bed without the usual knockout dose and had poor sleep. The next day, after a brain-cutting session in the hospital, he went across the road to get lunch, as usual. Suddenly, the coffee turned green then purple. He looked up and saw a customer with a huge proboscidean head. Realising that he was hallucinating, he quickly made his way home (suffering frightening hallucinations along the way). Thinking that he had lost his mind, he phoned his friend, Carol and told her “I want to say goodbye. I’ve gone mad, psychotic, insane.” Luckily, Carol knew that he was just suffering from DT – delirium tremens as he had just stopped taking chloral hydrate (in huge doses). For the next ninety-six hours, he continued hallucinating and when it finally stopped, he fell into exhausted stupor.

In February 1967, he had amphetamine and started reading Edward Liveing’s book on migraine. In ten hours, he read steadily through the five hundred pages. At times, he was unsure if he was reading or writing the book. He was moved by Liveing’s humanity and social sensitivity, the mix of science and humanism, and heard a very loud internal voice telling him to be the Living of his time. The next day, he began to write his own book. The joy he got from writing was real – infinitely more substantial than the vapid mania of amphetamines- and he never took amphetamines again.

Same lack of consciousness

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for. – Vladimir Nabokov in Speak, Memory