LIVING LIFE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Until the End of Time

By: Brian Greene  

Narrated by Brian Greene

Author, (American Theoretical Physicist)

There is a great deal to unpack in Brian Greene’s “Until the End of Time”.  As is true of many of Greene’s scientific observations, much of his self-effacing intelligence and science-based opinion is lost in the ignorance of his listeners (more specifically, this listener).  However, where Greene’s beliefs intersect with one’s limited knowledge, his theory of the ending of time and life is immensely rewarding and enlightening.

Greene does not argue there is no God. However, he suggests modern science shows there is no reason for God to exist to create life. 

To Greene, there is more verifiable proof of life in science than verifiable proof of God in either science or religion.

In Greene’s thought, God and religion may have a great deal to do with sustaining human life, but in ways more sociological than religious.  Weather one is a believer, atheist, or agnostic makes no difference to Greene.  He carefully constructs an explanation of how science shows life may have come into existence, why stories of life may explain belief in God, and why humans are fundamentally different from other forms of life.  The fundamental point of “…the End of Time” has to do with human mortality.  Human mortality lies at the core of Greene’s view of time and life.

Greene suggests the laws of physics founded by luminaries like Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and Erwin Schrodinger offer evidence for the basis for life on earth, with or without God.  Greene explains the principle of thermodynamics, the fundamental science of energy that creates and sustains life. 

Greene explains–the physics of energy (thermodynamics) ensures eventual death.  All life is pre-determined by the fundamental law of entropy.  The fate of time and life began with a bang.  This singular event disbursed tightly organized atomistic particles into a continually less organized space.

Greene notes that all forms of life are subject to entropy, a gradual decline from order to disorder.  Greene argues that entropy acts at an atomistic level to determine the fate of all living things. Greene suggest laws of quantum mechanics determine the course of life for all “living” things.

To Greene, humankind is free to make choices.  However, he argues humankind does not have free will.  The physics of science show that all living things cannot choose to live forever.  Humans can choose how to live, what to think, who to love, who to hate but they cannot choose one Nano second longer than what is dictated by the fundamental law of entropy.

Greene notes the science of Darwinian evolution and genetic inheritance is a relevant reinforcement of his argument for the inevitable extinction of life.  The entropy accompanying human habitation is evident in pollution of the air we breath and the water we drink.    (Though Greene does not address advances in genetic inheritance through gene manipulation, genetic manipulation does not negate Greene’s overriding concept of entropy.)

Just as earth’s environment slowly degrades, genetic inheritance as a process will eventually lead to extinction.  Humans, just as dinosaur’s, sabre tooth tigers, and Dodo birds will disappear. All life adapts to change until the speed of environmental change becomes greater than the speed of evolutionary adaptation.

Greene agues humankind’s recognition of mortality shapes lives as consequentially as evolution. The significance of Greene’s argument is that religion is founded on acknowledgement of eventual death.  Knowing that one cannot live forever, creates the desire for something beyond death.  Greene elaborates by arguing that human lack of control over natural events compels creation of stories about a Supreme Being. *

The big picture in “Until the End of Time” is that the world and life is heading for an end.   Based on the science of physics, there is an “…End of Time” for humankind, based on the immutable and experimentally proven laws of thermodynamics.  Entropy is evident in the science of quantum mechanics (the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles), and the science of a continually expanding universe.

What does this mean to us?  Humans still make their own choices on how to live, love, and hate in their lifetimes.  The singer, Bobby McFerrin, suggests “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.  Others suggest the meaning of life is to live in the moment.  Brian Greene suggests it is up to you.  Our lives and death may be pre-determined, but we have freedom to choose how we live, love, and work.

* Greene acknowledges the slim possibility of Devine existence but considers it much less probable based on the discipline of science and the existence of entropy.  Greene does not discount the comfort religion offers humankind, including the rituals that help one cope with life and the passing of loved ones.

GNOSTICISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough
(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog
The Gnostic Gospels
By: Elaine Pagels
Narrated by Lorna Raver

Elaine Pagels is a Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She has a Ph.D. in religion from Harvard University. Modern Library calls Pagels’ book, “The Gnostic Gospels” one of the 100 most important books of the twentieth century.

Like the beginning of a story of adventure and mystery, Pagels recounts the discovery of a fifty-two text collection of papyrus sheets recounting the beginnings of the Christian church.

For all religious organizations and particularly the Christian church, “The Gnostic Gospels” shakes the foundation of institutional religion.

According to Pagels, the Coptic text of “The Gnostic Gospels” show that in the near-beginnings of the Christian religion there were questions about who Jesus was and what he was about.

  • Was Jesus simply a prophet or the Son of God?
  • Was he preaching for the creation of a religion ?
  • Were historical facts manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution?
  • Was Mary Magdalene a conjugal companion or disciple?

Pagels’ interpretation of “The Gnostic Gospels” suggests Jesus was a prophet; that his life story was manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution, and that Mary Magdalene was a disciple.

A fundamental theme of “The Gnostic Gospels” is that the “Kingdom of God” is present within every human being, then and now, and that self-knowledge is the source of admittance to grace.

If one believes this teaching, it does not mean one must abandon organized religion but it redefines the role of the church.

Pagels’ interpretation of the “Gnostic Gospels” implies the role of the church is not to ritualize admittance to the “Kingdom of God” by christening mankind or bludgeoning all who do not accept a church’s vision of religion.

It suggests the church’s role is to aid personal revelation. Maybe Dostoevsky’s parable of “The Grand Inquisitor” is more insight than imagination.

Doubt remains at the conclusion of “The Gnostic Gospels”, even after reading Pagels’ insightful interpretation. Gnostic documentation is distant from “witnesses to the truth”. “The Gnostic Gospels” were written 300 or 400 years after Jesus’s time.

RELIGIOUS BELIEF

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Brothers Karamazov

By: Fyodor Dostoevsky (Translated by Constance Garnett)

Narrated by Frederick Davidson

A re-listening of one of Dostoevsky’s masterpieces reminds one of why it is considered a classic. 

My first review of “The Brothers Karamazov” focuses on Dostoevsky’s prescient view of psychology

Re-listening reprises its deeply religious overtone and its depiction of how some novelists view and reinforce inequality of the sexes.

Vasily Kachalov as Ivan Karmazov.

The role of religion in life is vivified by Ivan Karamazov, the 4th son and brother of the Karamazov family. 

Depiction of Alyosha Karamazov.

Ivan tells his youngest brother, Alyosha, of an imagined poem.  It is named “The Grand Inquisitor”.  It is a story of the return of Christ noted in the Christian bible as the second coming. 

Ivan offers a societal interpretation of the concept of God in his narrative poem.  He explains to his brother Alyosha–if the Son of God returns to earth and shows his divinity through miracle, the returning Christ would be captured by church elders and rejected as humankind’s Savior.

Christ’s capturer in Ivan’s poem is a wizened bishop (the Grand Inquisitor) who explains faith is more important than the second coming. 

The bishop explains the Church is commissioned by Christ’s Father to rule the world.  With God’s commission, “The Grand Inquisitor” argues the Church dutifully manages human sin and confession.  The inference is that a “second coming” will not successfully eradicate human sin because it is ineradicable.

The bishop argues the return of Christ is not as important as the church’s management of sin and its gift of hope to the people of the world. 

In contradiction of Ivan’s poem and his societal interpretation of religion, Dostoevsky creates Father Zosima.  Zosima tells his life story as a relatively wealthy young military officer who becomes a venerated monk. 

Despite a secular life of sin, Zosima requests forgiveness from those he has sinned against.  Because of his spiritual awakening, Zosima requests forgiveness, and with the help of a stranger’s confession, reconciles and accepts the word of God. 

Zosima recalls the truth of God who tests Job’s faith by allowing the devil to take all his earthly wealth, health, and family.  Job never gives up his faith in God. Zosima recounts reconciliation and forgiveness of Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery.  Zosima commits his remaining life to God with these two biblical parables.  Zosima’s life story foreshadows Ivan’s conversion from belief in the “…Grand Inquisitor” to belief in God’s truth.

For God’s believers, Dostoevsky argues the world will change just as Zosima changed.  The change will come from salvation based on repentance, confession, and acceptance of God’s truth. 

Dostoevsky suggests God’s truth is that no one should stand in judgement over another, each should pray for theirs, and their brother’s redemption. Zosima argues this change will come upon the world gradually based on a growing diminution of the human desire for money, power, and prestige.  Care for others becomes as great as care for oneself. To Dostoevsky, this is an evolutionary imperative based on the biblical word of God.

The truth Zosima refers to is that all men are created equal, they should be treated with respect, and forgiven for their inevitable sins. 

A blaring irony of “The Brothers Karamazov” is the reprehensible characterization of women.  Dostoevsky’s vision is patriarchal.  Women bare children keep the house and obey their husbands.  There is no room for women’s equality.  They are a mere rib of Man.

One might argue there has been progress for women since the 19th century, but women are still battered, women are generally paid less than men for the same work, and women are often treated like slaves.

“The Brothers Karamazov” is a classic. It is prescient for these times.  One might argue that more attention is being given today to sexual, ethnic, religious, and racial inequality.  However, progress is slow.  America has taken many steps back, and few steps forward. 

Dostoevsky’s “…Brothers Karamazov” is a reminder of Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote— “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Maybe, but this generation doubts its truth.

How long is too long?

God and Science

Audio-book Review 
By Chet Yarbrough 

(Blog:awalkingdelight) 
Website: chetyarbrough.blog 

The Big Picture 

BySean Carroll 

Narrated by Sean Carroll 

Sean Carroll (Author, theoretical physicist in quantum mechanics, gravity, and cosmology.)

Being a fan, Sean Carroll is usually a good source for understanding science but “The Big Picture” is not his best work. Traveling through centuries of discovery and science’ revisions is too broad a picture for a layman’s understanding.  Many attempts at clear communication about current physics fail to enlighten “The Big Picture”. 

Carroll does clarify the difference between “is” and “ought” that explains why science is important.  God may be the origin of life on earth but proof relying on faith is an “ought” without an “is”.  Science reduces knowledge to facts based on repeatable experiments and predictable results.  If experiments are conducted by different experimenters with the same results, what “is” becomes predictable and more likely correct. Carroll explains science deals with the world as it “is”; not how the world “ought” to be.   

Preachers preach a gospel based on what is not experimentally proven and only anecdotally predictable.  Anecdotes are not necessarily true or reliable because they are based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.  Numerous studies have shown that human cognition relies on brain patterning which influences, matches, or melds information stored in the brain. 

The consequence of patterning distorts reality.  Eye-witness accounts of events are notoriously misleading because of human patterning.   

“The Big Picture” recounts the history of physics and how human understanding has evolved over the centuries.  Carroll explains how past discoveries based on science have evolved.  Newton lived in the same world as Einstein.  Both discovered fundamental truths about “The Big Picture”. 

Newton’s laws apply to earth’s realm.  Einstein’s laws apply to the universe.  Both are correct within their spheres.  Carroll notes neither Newton nor Einstein contradict the laws of physics, but their laws are confined by the earth or universe in which they are proven. 

Carroll believes all essential particles of the atom have been discovered.  This reminds one of the scientists in the late 19th century who said, “in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes”. 

It is difficult not to enjoy Carroll’s way with words but with the unexplained essence of gravity, dark matter, and dark energy, it seems premature to suggest no new particle discoveries will change our view of the world and their impact on reality. 

ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

By: Christopher de Hamel

Narrated by Christopher de Hamel

Christopher de Hamel is a British academic librarian.  He is an expert on mediaeval manuscripts.  De Hamel takes listeners on an international journey to view ancient illuminated manuscripts.  

De Hamel’s peregrinations are fascinating, in part because of his excellent recitation.  But also because of interesting stories about manuscript’ provenance, purpose, and location.  (A listener’s regret–there are no illuminated manuscript’ plates in the audio book appendix. This review is meant to partially address that regret.)   

Illuminated manuscripts are held for safekeeping in controlled access libraries and museums around the world. These manuscripts are called “illuminated” because they were hand-made with images and script drawn in gold and silver. They were made by Western European scribes between 500 and 1600 CE (common era). 

They vary in size from as large as three feet tall (Codex Gigas with 310 leaves of vellum made from 160 donkeys) to one so small it could fit into the palm of one’s hand; e.g. the “Prayer Book of Claude de France” produced in the 16th century.

De Hamel reviews 12 manuscripts.  The most famous is the “Book of Kels” found in Ireland.  The most interesting might be the “Spinola Book of Hours” because the author plays a role in its discovery and collation.  The “Spinola Book of Hours” is a 16th century manuscript with 88 miniature paintings.  It is presently located in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The purpose of ancient manuscripts is to educate and enlighten medieval populations. Just as today, the greatest benefit is to the rich. The rich could afford the manuscripts but the poor were offered limited exposure through the few religious schools that served the poor. Many ancient manuscripts were used to teach the young how to read while educating them in the history of the world and the religion adhered to by royalty.

(The invention of the Guttenberg press in 1440 CE was the beginning of the end of the illuminated manuscript but the art of the handmade manuscript survives into the early 17th century.)

De Hamel tells 13 stories about 12 illuminated and one technically not-illuminated manuscript (the “Codex Amiatinus”). All entertain and inform interested listeners.

The following list shows de Hamel’s chosen manuscripts. An interesting manuscript that reflects on modern times is Tres Riches Heurees du Duc de Berry. It reflects on the Black Plague’s European devastation.

  1. BOOK OF DURROW (7th century book of hours, biblical tales and Virgil/Homeric tales, most well known. Located in Dublin @ Trinity College – is the oldest completed illuminated transcript)
  2. CODEX AMIATINUS (created by missionaries, 8th century, North Umbria creation. Bible.) technically not illuminated-no silver or gold.
  3. LINDISFARNE GOSPELS (Somehow saved) 8th century New Testament, stolen by the Vikings. Contains the gospes of Mark, John, Luke, and Matthew.)
  4. THE BOOK OF KELLS (most famous, 9th century, greatest of any era)
  5. ST. ALBANS PSALTER (12th century, detailed art work)
  6. MORGAN CRUSADER BIBLE (13th century) artistic masterpiece about the Old Testament crusades
  7. WESTMINISTER ABBEY BESTIARY (164 illustrations, 13th century, real and imaginary animals)
  8. THE BOOK OF HOURS OF JEANNE d’Evreux (14th century) life of Jesus.
  9. THE BLACK HOURS (15th century) created in Greece, purchased by Piermont Morgan and housed in the Morgan Museum in New York.
  10. TRES RICHES HEURES du Duc de Berry (15th century, master work, unfinished because of the plague.)
  11. Grimani Breviary (16th century, religious and secular stories, made in Flanders. Over 1600 pages – stories from the bible)
  12. PRAYER BOOK OF CLAUDE DE FRANCE (16th century) fit in the palm of one’s hand. Magnifying glass needed.

EGYPTS REVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Buried-An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution

By: Peter Hessler

Narrated by Peter Hessler

Peter Hessler (American Author, and journalist.)

Peter Hessler chooses to move from China to Egypt just before the 2011 Egyptian revolution.  He, his wife, and twin newborns live in Egypt for five years.

Hessler worked for The New Yorker as a staff writer from 2000 to 2007 and became the magazine’s correspondent for China from 2011 to 2016. 

Hessler looks at Egypt through the eyes of an American who lived in both China and Egypt as a reporter.  His perspective melds Chinese and American acculturation with interesting incite to Egypt’s history, language, and politics.

Egypt is a fascinating country for anyone who has visited or read about its ancient civilizations.  With brief comments about Egypt’s historic monuments and museums, Hessler touches the culture of modern Egypt. 

Hessler notes the extraordinary ability of Egyptians to hold two opposing thoughts and adjust behavior to accommodate both beliefs.  On the one hand, there is a sense of “let it be” when minor or major events occur in the lives of modern Egyptians.  On the other, there is a history of autocratic Egyptian rulers who insist on strict control of society.   In view of the many non-Egyptian’ governments after the Pharohs, it comes as no surprise that Egyptians are adaptive.

Sadat, Mubarak, & Nasser were military dictators before the election of Morsi who is deposed in the revolution by today’s military leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Hessler comments on the ability of Egyptians to learn languages at varying ages of maturity.  Language skill is the lingua franca of the ability to adapt. 

From ancient times of the Assyrians, Persians, and Greeks; to more modern times of the Ottomans and British–Egypt remains Egyptian despite their adaptability.

Hessler offers an understanding of Egypt through the eyes of its citizens.  He recounts the tumultuous relationship of an entrepreneurial garbage collector and his wife.  The garbage collector is illiterate.  His wife can read and write.

The garbage collector is in his 30s when he marries his 18-year-old wife.  Their marriage leads to three and then four children.  The garbage collector is exiled from his children with the threat of divorce initiated by his conservative wife.  His wife follows Egyptian culture in covering her face but rejects some of the discriminatory aspects of a patriarchal society.

Hessler’s garbage collector is a great source of information about Egyptian culture because of the details he knows of other lives based on what Egypt’s citizens throw away.  The collector is scrupulously honest about the garbage he collects.  When he finds something in the trash that has value he returns to his customer.  It is a matter of pride; stoked by belief in a cosmic or religious wheel in his mind that tells him what is right.  However, the wheel seems to stop when it comes to relationship with his wife and children.  This leads to what Hessler suggests is a fundamental flaw in modern Egypt; i.e. women’s inequality. 

Because the collector’s wife knows how to read and write, she files an appeal to the court to strip her husband of his house and property.  She files for divorce but recants after finding the consequence of such action would make her and her children destitute.

Surprisingly, their tumultuous relationship becomes less combative as their life together matures. Their personal trials seem a paradigm of Egypt’s “let it be” and autocratic culture.

Hessler reports on the ponderous, corrupt justice system that both aids and thwarts the intentions of married couples seeking help.

Women are discriminated against based on their sex in Egypt. 

Women are raised to believe their role in life is to have and raise children, and take care of their husbands and families.  Girls are not afforded the same educational opportunities as men.  Women are expected to sacrifice their entrepreneurial right to a job when they are married.  Hessler notes female children are routinely genitally mutilated. This is a tradition based on a belief that sexual pleasure and desire are a threat to society. Hessler compares the torture of genital mutilation to the Chinese tradition of binding women’s feet.

Hessler compares Chinese with Egyptian culture to expose the consequence of sex discrimination.  The potential of women’s contribution to the economy in Egypt is eviscerated by its culture of discrimination.

In an adults most productive years, Egyptian housewives cannot work for pay outside of the home.  If a woman has a good job, she is expected to relinquish it when she is married.  In contrast, Chinese women are full participants in the economy.

 

Parenthetically, Hessler notes Egyptian homosexuals are persecuted for their sexual preference.  The irony of that homosexual persecution is in Egypt’s patriarchal culture that discourages social contact between the sexes.  Putting aside genetic predisposition, without social contact with women, male relationships become the only acceptable form of intimate relations.

Egypt’s demonstration against a crackdown on LGBT’ rights.

Hessler’s book is interesting because of his firsthand knowledge of the revolution that removes Morsi from the Egyptian Presidency.  In many conversations with Egyptian residents, Hessler notes the weakness of the Brotherhood in Egypt; both in number and in qualification for political leadership. 

Hessler contrasts the military with the Muslim religion of the Brotherhood.  The military has a long history in modern Egypt.  The tradition of strong leaders has an even longer history.  The Brotherhood is characterized by strong leaders who only press religion; without understanding the nature of society that desires order, safety, and economic opportunity. Order, safety, and economic opportunity are a “good despot’s” alleged intent.

Mohammed Morsi (Fifth President of Egypt for 1 year until removed from office by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Morsi dies of a heart attack in 2019.)

Hessler shows the Brotherhood as an association of religious believers that have little organizational skill.  They are not educated to lead.  They are educated to worship.  That educational limitation exhibits itself in Morsi’s weak government.  Egypt flounders economically with the election of Morsi.  One can argue it is still floundering under el-Sisi but Hessler shows the military is more prepared to lead based on the tenants of worldly desire rather than religious worship.

Egyptian Brotherhood Rally

(In a population of 80,000,000, there are an estimated 600,000 dues paying members of the Brotherhood; of which 100,000 are considered militant.)

Hessler explains there are many conspiracy theories surrounding the Brotherhood’s influence in Egypt. Their small numbers and inept management skill seem unlikely to create a successful uprising in Egypt. The Brotherhood’s revolutionary impact seems symbolic more than real. However, one realizes Russian Bolsheviks were a small minority in 1917.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Current President of Egypt)

Hessler notes that el-Sisi’s popularity is diminished by missteps in funding infrastructure improvements at the expense of more direct economic need.  He cites the expansion of the Suez Canal as an example of a prudent long-term aid to the economy but a neglect of medical services, justice reform, and housing needs for today’s general population.

There is also the issue of repression by el-Sisi.  Hessler recalls the incident of a tortured, and then killed, foreign student that criticizes the current government.  The author notes that el-Sisi’s defenders suggest the murder was an accident caused by young and inexperienced supporters of el-Sisi. 

In recalling my personal trip to Egypt in 2019, the Brotherhood is a big concern of the government. Tourism is a big industry for Egypt. That industry nearly dies with the election of Morsi. Some Egyptians feel something is getting done with el-Sisi; while no economic progress happened with Morsi.

Hessler offers a glimpse of the hardship Egypt faces in the 21st century.  His observations are at a local level of Egyptian society; not at the obscure level of a thirty-day tourist.  Time will tell if el-Sisi is the answer to Egypt’s failing economy. 

Sisi is acknowledged by Hessler as a good communicator.  Sisi is truly an Egyptian focusing on his perception of what Egypt needs now; not the religious salvation of the eternal.  The biggest criticism of Egypt’s leadership in Hessler’s book is the unequal treatment of women.  There seems no action taken by el-Sisi to address that reality. One wonders if the economy is likely to grow quickly enough to avoid another revolution without gender discrimination reform.

POWER OF THE PEN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World

By: Leo Damrosch

Narrated by David Stifel

Leo Damrosch (American author and professor of Literature at Harvard)

Leo Damrosch’s biography of “Jonathan Swift” illustrates the power of the pen.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745, Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric.)

Jonathan Swift is principally remembered for “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World”, better known as “Gulliver’s Travels”.  What is less known of Swift is that he was and is a revered Irish hero.

Damrosch has written a comprehensive biography of Jonathan Swift’s life.  Damrosch searches for what is known, while expressing reservation about what others speculate about Swift’s life.  Jonathan Swift is recognized as an ordained Anglican priest that reluctantly accepts a position as Deanery of St Patrick’s church in Ireland. 

Swift lives an ironic life.  He was born in Ireland but preferred living in England.  His life reflects humanity’s ambivalence about money, power, and prestige. 

Irony lies in Swift’s desire to become rich, powerful, and respected while skewering the rich, powerful, and respected.

Swift reveres the Anglican Church while he hates the memory of King Henry VIII’s duplicitous murder of Saint Thomas of Canterbury in the 12th century.  Irish Catholics are tolerated rather than accepted as religious equals by Swift.  Swift’s appellation for Irish Catholics is “those Irish”.

England’s leaders grew to fear Swift’s power of the pen. He became a respected, if not rich, Irish cleric. Religious satire was Swift’s sword but it had two edges.

Just as Swift is endearing himself to English leadership, he writes a satiric book about western Christianity.  The book is called “A Tale of a Tub”.  It is widely read by literate England.  Queen Anne considers the book blasphemous because of its parodies about religion and religion’s use and abuse in politics. 

Damrosch believes “A Tale of a Tub” burns Swift’s chance for ever becoming an English Bishop, a well-paying and respected position in the Anglican Church.  Without Royal endorsement, Swift has little chance of promotion in England.

An irony of Swift’s life is that he gained a reputation as a maker and breaker of English’ politicians and noblemen by writing “A Tale of a Tub”; i.e. Damrosch notes several examples of English’ leaders that either solicit mention in Swift’s writing or fear pillory by Swift’s pen.  The good consequence is respect for Swift’s writing skill; the bad consequence is English Royalty’s disdain for Swift’s writing substance and his ultimate lesser-posting in an Anglican Church in Ireland.

In today’s news, Pope Benedict implies deterioration of the church is caused by 1960’s sexual liberation.

Swift embraces religion but denigrates its leadership.  

Irony follows irony in Swift’s life.  Swift is a Tories’ sympathizer that evolves into an Irish hero that decries Tory treatment of Ireland in the early 18th century.  He hated Ireland but became Ireland’s hero.  Swift promotes Ireland’s boycott of British goods when England forbids export of Irish wool to anywhere but England.  Swift decries Irish poverty but suggests poverty is an Irish moral failing. 

The climax of Damrosch’s biography is Swift’s publication of “Gulliver’s Travels”.  Swift’s dissection of societies’ follies is as relevant today as it was in the 18th century.  One might argue that “A Tale of a Tub” is equally important but “Gulliver’s Travels” resonates with all who read for pleasure, politics, or enlightenment; whether young or old.  “A Tale of a Tub” is more relevant to the time of its writing.

There are other biographical details about women in Swift’s life, his stories, and Swift’s idiosyncratic habits but power of the pen is the thematic giant in Damrosch’s book.  Damrosch shows how Swift became a feared satirist by England’s leaders.

SKEPTIC

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Believing Brain

By Michael Shermer

Narrated by Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer (Author, American science writer, editor of the magazine Skeptic.)

Michael Shermer is an academic psychologist, writer, myth buster, and faith breaker.  Shermer characterizes himself as a religious skeptic. His underlying skepticism about God is grounded in 1.) prayer’s failure to cure the incurable, 2.) the nature and history of recorded life, and 3.) scientific studies of brain function.

Shermer writes of personal prayers’ failure to heal a medically un-heal-able friend.  He recounts common sectarian stories that occur in the history of different religions in the world suggesting that stories of religious belief are genetically imprinted; i.e. a condition of human memes rather than proof of God. 

Sherman has company in that belief. Richard Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene to make the same mimetic point.

Shermer reviews brain function studies that confirm neurological causes for “out of body experience”, “voices from the unseen”, alien abduction, white light cognition during near death experience, and other anecdotes that mythologize the existence of other beings, God , the devil, and/or an “after life”.

The Believing Brain characterizes belief in God as a genetically evolved faith-based myth.  Shermer cites science and history to deny God’s existence.  Shermer believes faith in God comes from a genetic predisposition of human beings to complete causal, mythological stories to explain unexplained phenomena. 

Aside from Shermer’s disbelief in God, his most substantive observations are the experimentally reproducible studies that clearly demonstrate man’s ability to invent stories, deny physical reality, and act in socially reprehensible ways. 

Shermer notes how such things as framing an idea distorts human cognition.  Scientific studies show that human cognition is proven to be biased by a person’s belief system.  Shermer cites B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning and the famous Milgram obedience experiments to show how human perception, and more consequentially, behavior are manipulated by human instinct and contextual bias.

It is no wonder that “eye witness” accounts of crime are being discounted as a source for conviction of presumed perpetrators.

The foundation of Shermer’s skepticism is what he calls “patternicity” and “agenticity”.  “Patternicity” is the human compulsion to see causal relationship in the physical world. 

“The Believing Brain” outlines a psychological inclination of human brains to manufacture causal patterns and agents (“agenticity”) to support predetermined beliefs. 

The irony of Shermer’s analysis of brain function is that “patternicity” is an essential tool of the scientific community. 

Without the use of “patternicity”, how would Bohr, Einstein, or Paul Dirac have advanced the world of physics?  These men believed something before science could prove them right.  They had faith in their own judgement when experiment could not prove their point.

Shermer notes that science is the key to knowledge.  Science requires experimentally reproducible results. When experimental results are not the same, knowledge escapes.  Experiment recently confirmed existence of the Higgs Boson 16 years after François Englert and Peter Higgs created the theory.

One must presume Shermer chooses to call himself a skeptic because—when asked if he believes in God, no experiment can be done to confirm or deny existence.

CONSCIOUSNESS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False

mind and cosmos

By: Thomas Nagel 

Narrated by: Brian Troxell

THOMAS NAGEL (AMERICAN AUTHOR, PROFESSOR NEW YORK UNIVERSITY)
THOMAS NAGEL (AMERICAN AUTHOR, PROFESSOR NEW YORK UNIVERSITY)

Thomas Nagel believes Darwin’s theory of natural selection is wrong.  Nagel suggests natural selection fails to encompass the concept of mind.  Even though Nagel acknowledges biology and physics have made great strides in understanding the nature of life, he suggests the mind should be a starting point for a theory of everything.  Nagel infers that science research is bogged down by a mechanistic view of nature.  Nagel suggests science must discover the origin of consciousness to find the Holy Grail; i.e. an all-encompassing theory of nature.

CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882)
CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882) FOUNDER OF THE THEORY OF THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.

Nagel does not believe Darwinian evolution can explain consciousness.  Nagel offers a sliver of hope to believers in God as the Creator but, as an atheist, he suggests there is a teleological (an account of a given thing’s end or purpose) explanation for consciousness that is yet to be discovered.  In that discovery, he believes there will be a theory of everything that encompasses the true nature of life.

Nagel acknowledges God may be the answer but places that idea near the level of space aliens leaving seeds of life on earth.  He argues that discovery of the origin of consciousness through science will be the key to open the door to a theory of everything.  Like Einstein and Newton, Nagel believes humans live in a world of cause and effect.  But, like Newtonian’ physics failure to encompass the universe’s laws of motion, and Einstein’s belief that God does not play with dice, Nagel believes Darwin’s concept of natural selection is, at best, incomplete.  (Both Newton and Einstein failed to incorporate laws of quantum mechanics in their respective theories of nature.)consciousness

SIR ISAAC NEWTON (1642-1727)
SIR ISAAC NEWTON (1642-1727)

ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955)
ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without agreeing or disagreeing with Nagel’s idea, it seems propitious for the United States to fund and begin their decade-long effort to examine the human brain.  A giant step forward was taken by President Obama but Trump’s anti-science mentality suggests Nagel’s idea will not be explored during Trump’s administration.

OBAMA BRAIN INITITIVE IN 2014 ($300 MILLION DOLLAR FOR R&D ON NEUROLOGICAL FUNCTION)
OBAMA BRAIN INITIATIVE IN 2014 ($300 MILLION DOLLAR FOR NEUROLOGICAL R&D–Trump’s anti-science mentality suggests Nagel’s idea will not be explored during Trump’s administration.)

RICHARD DAWKINS (ENGLISH ETHOLOGIST AND EVOLUIONARY BIOLOGIST WHO INFERS A GENE MAY BE THE SOURCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS)
RICHARD DAWKINS (ENGLISH ETHOLOGIST AND BIOLOGIST INFERS A GENE MAY BE THE SOURCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS)

Though nearer term objectives are to understand Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, the longer term result may be to discover the origin of consciousness.  Contrary to Nagel’s contention that natural selection cannot explain consciousness, brain research may reveal consciousness rises from the same source of mysterious elemental and repetitive combinations of an immortal gene that Darwin dimly understood. Brain research offers an avenue for extension or refutation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Mind and Cosmos is a tribute to Nagel’s “outside the box” philosophical’ thought.  Like some who say string theory is a blind alley for a theory of everything, natural selection may be a mistaken road to the origin of life.

 

COSMIC MIND

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Letting Go

LETTING GO

Written by: David R. Hawkins

Narration by:  Peter Lownds

DAVID R. HAWKINS (1927-2012, DIED AT AGE 85, AUTHOR, PHILOSOPHER, MD, PSYCHIATRIST)

AUTHOR–David R. Hawkins died in 2012.  He was 85 years old.

David R. Hawkins died in 2012.  He was 85 years old.    At turns, Hawkins transitioned from agnosticism to atheism to belief in God.  This progression seems correlated with education and experience but ends in philosophical belief.  In each transition, Hawkins uses his intellect to form a philosophy that has appeal to many in search of life’s meaning. 

At times, Hawkins seems beyond reason but each step he takes offers insight to how one may live a more fulfilling life. Hawkins might be broadly characterized as a mystic.  Even so, he was a formally educated, practicing physician, and psychiatrist.

Mysticism lies in Hawkins belief in human dualism, a belief dating back to Plato and adopted by many later philosophers. 

PLATO'S BELIEF IN DUALITY-BODY AND SOUL

Hawkins dualism is belief in a distinct separation between mind and body.  More precisely for Hawkins, it is a separation between mind and brain.

The power of this cosmic mind can cure all the maladies of humankind, both physical and mental.  Hawkins implies this cosmic mind can cure physical disease manifested in the body.  If you cannot see; if you cannot hear; if you cannot feel, your condition can be cured by a force of will that engages the cosmic mind.

COSMIC MIND BELIEF

Hawkins becomes a mystic when he posits belief in a cosmic mind shared by all humanity. 

This is a point at which Hawkins loses some believers.  However, before one gets to a point of rejection, Hawkins offers wise counsel on how to live life and approach a level of what Abraham Maslow labeled self-actualization.

SELF-ACTUALIZATION

Abraham Maslow’s self-actualization.

The mind gets trapped in Plato’s cave and only sees shadows of reality.  Reality is obscured by what the human mind tells them.  The mind’s interpretation of life’s events distorts reality.  A child remembers a father’s or mother’s rebuke as an eternal judgement when reality may have been to protect a child from harm.  The shadow is created and remains with the child for the rest of his/her life.

PLATO'S CAVE

PLATO’S CAVE (Hawkins argues that everything that happens in one’s life is because of the mind’s interpretation of the world.)

LETTING GO GRAPHIC

To escape the trap of Plato’s cave, Hawkins explains one must use their senses to accept the mind’s perception of reality and continually let it go until its negative power disappears.

An example would be one who gets angry over some event or action and accepts the anger; looks at it, accepts it, uses the mind to understand why there is anger, where it is coming from, and then letting it go.  In the process, one finds anger has no meaning other than what one’s mind gave it.

With continual use of this process, Hawkins believes individual minds tap into a cosmic mind that shows the world as it really is; not simply as shadows on a cave wall. 

There is wisdom in Hawkins’ perception of life and how one can more constructively deal with its vicissitudes. In this time of Covid 19, “Letting Go” is wise counsel for those troubled by emotional and/or physical trauma.  However, the principle of a cosmic mind takes a leap of faith.