Can our thoughts, meditation, and prayers change the world? Of course, for starters, they can change the way we speak and act, thereby indirectly changing the world. Beyond that, some speculate that our minds may be able to change the world more directly.
Despite the clamor of Bible literalists, there is not objective evidence that a worldwide flood occurred a few thousand years ago, as suggested by some popular interpretations of the Noah story. On the other hand, perhaps megafloods that occurred a few million years ago impressed our early ancestors sufficiently to result in ritual narratives that persisted in varying oral forms up to the time that they were adapted into the various written accounts we now find in ancient texts, both in the Bible and elsewhere.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." This passage of text from the Gospel of John calls to mind the power of language and reason. The Greek word from which "Word" was translated is "logos", which is the root of "logic" and meant something like reasoned explanation. Some early Greeks considered logos to be the governing principle of the universe. The Gospel of John probably associates this Greek idea with the Christian God as a missionary appeal to persons with a neoplatonist perspective, which may be considered the science of those times.
While listening to speakers at church today, I considered my internal reactions to the various ideas and feelings expressed. At times I was inspired, at times indifferent, and on occasion annoyed. Consideration led me mostly to familiar explanations, ranging from degree of shared perspective to volume of persons near me, but at least one new explanation also came to mind.
A well-meaning anonymous fellow Mormon once chastised me, encouraging more focus on the powers of prayer and priesthood and less focus on the powers of technology. He argued that it will be the traditional religious mechanisms that will save us. I responded with a question: why does the Church use technology to share it's message? He didn't answer. The question stands.
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Evidence of a deep biological link between human music and speech has been found by Duke University neuroscientists. They found that the musical scales most commonly used over the centuries are those that come closest to mimicking the physics of the human voice, and that we understand emotions expressed through music because the music mimics the way emotions are expressed in speech. The showed that the harmonic structure of vowel tones forms the basis of the musical scales we find most appealing, and the popularity of musical scales can be predicted based on how well they match up with the series of harmonics characteristic of vowels in speech. (Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091202205627.htm)
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Gratitude has become a focus of contemporary psychological research, which clearly demonstrates that gratitude motivates, reciprocates, fulfills, satisfies, overcomes, empowers, supports, protects and relaxes. In that spirit, we thank each other, near and far, ancestors and descendants, mundane and sublime. We feel the gratitude throughout our being and project it into our world. All we thank for the grace of meaning and opportunity, beyond any solitary ability. Thank God. Happy Thanksgiving!
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SALT LAKE CITY | 10 Nov 2009 | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared its support of nondiscrimination regulations that would extend protection in matters of housing and employment in Salt Lake City to those with same-sex attraction.
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By way of update, here's a screenshot of the post, still in the LDS Church newsroom feed . . .
. . . and another update. It appears that this post does in fact reflect an official press release made by the LDS Church. The Deseret News recently released "Text from LDS church regarding Salt Lake City's non-discrimination ordinance". Good news!
Dan Dennett is among my favorite atheists. I imagine some may not think that much of a compliment, coming from a theist; but, unlike many (perhaps most) theists, I actually don't assume atheists to be evil by default, and even have the fortune of counting some atheists among my friends.
In Sunday School today, we discussed Mormon ideas and doctrines related to the salvation of the dead. The focus, as usual, was on the contemporary practice of performing religious rituals, such as baptisms, on behalf of dead persons (by proxy, with no corpses involved, of course). The primary value I see in these ideas is that of near term practical consequence for the persons performing the rituals, which tend to open hearts and minds toward expectations of universal salvation, and consequently affect the Mormon community with a more charitable attitude towards persons with different backgrounds.
During such discussions, my thoughts and interest almost always move quickly beyond near term benefits to hope for long term benefits. Will these practices move us, as a people, to support and engage in the work of combatting aging? When those lessons are learned, will the doctrines further move us to support and engage in the work of resurrecting the dead?
Crazy? Maybe. Yet I wonder, and aspire. Is there a hard limit to the historians' project? To the medical doctor's oath? To the engineers' capacity? If not, what are the consequences of these endeavors, taken persistently and indefinitly forward? Is death absolute? Shall we worship that superlative?
Blasphemous? Certainly, for those who worship death. Yet, for those whose God is that of life and the power of love, we hear the call to take on the identity of Christ in every way possible, which is, as Paul the Apostle put it, the great mystery hidden from ages. We are called to be joint heirs in that glory. The Spirit whispers that we are children of God, and must, as all other gods before us, learn how to be gods ourselves. That is the esthetic.
We should resurrect the dead.
While listening to the LDS Church General Conference today, I was reminded by one of the speakers that the world is becoming an increasingly evil place. I disagree. Certainly all is not well in Zion, so to speak, but we should acknowledge and celebrate our successes in addition to identifying our failures. If you happen to be among those who think the world has been becoming worse with each passing moment, or if you know someone that thinks that way, here are some historical insights worth considering and passing along, from cognitive scientist Steven Pinker.
Religion is a controversial topic among transhumanists. Although the majority identify as atheists and agnostics, a substantial minority find transhumanism to be complementary with or even inherent in their spiritual or religious views. Of course, this results in friction, which in turn generates both some traction of contructive debate and some heat of wasteful hostility.
In his third lecture on the philosophy of life and death, Shelly Kagan begins presenting and refuting arguments for the existence of a supernatural or immaterial soul, or what he calls the "dualist perspective". He explains that one argument for the dualist perspective is that a supernatural or immaterial soul is required to explain the sorts of capacities that humans exhibit. He then appeals to technological advances, particularly computers and robots, to demonstrate that many of the capacities attributed to humans are already exhibited in bodies to which we do not attribute dualist natures. He ends by mentioning that he'll explore in the next lecture whether computers or robots might have the capacity for emotion.
"While I believe your application of moral value to the advancement of technology is noble and somewhat intellectually enticing. However this technologically enhanced or assisted approach to doing the work of the Lord offers little more than interesting fantasies and logical exercises (which by the way are very impressive).
"Transfiguration and resurrection has been and will continue to take place without the assistance of scientific technology. It is done through the power of the priesthood. Yes, science is trying to discover and even counterfeit the works that have been done by the priesthood.
"Speaking heart to heart, I just think you are barking up the wrong tree here. I'd focus on what can be done by commanding the elements to combine etc. through righteous exercising of the priesthood. We know that illness is eradicated, we know that people are brought back to life, we know that the earth was created by the power of the priesthood coupled with faith. If you want to explore some of the deepest mysteries focus your attention on the principles on which faith and personal revelation operate.
"Again, It is these principles that make things occur. Science allows us to appreciate them all the more but focus on the basics. Priesthood power, faith and revelation.
"I am afraid you might be looking beyond the mark on this one. Stick to what the living Prophets have asked us to do note the respective proportions by which they invite us to do so. Yes we need to continue our knowledge and learning but be careful of the spiritual death trap of those who think they are wise. Again, don't look beyond the mark."
"What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2: 14-20)
A couple months ago, my wife and I started taking resveratrol, a dietary supplement that appears to be effecting significantly extended and healthier life spans in mice and monkeys. Results have not yet been verified in humans, but here's a video segment from 60 minutes that may intrigue you.
In this lecture, Shelly Kagan talks about life and death, as well as persons, in black and white terms. However, are there degrees of life and death? Are there degrees of consciousness? Are there degrees of identity?
I've begun watching Shelly Kagan's lectures on the "Philosophy of Life and Death" via Academic Earth, which links to thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars. In this set of lectures, Shelly argues for the following perspective: "I'm going to try to convince you that there is no soul. Immortality would not be a good thing. Fear of death isn't actually an appropriate response to death. Suicide, under certain circumstances, might be rationally and morally justified."
This is a transcript of a talk I gave to my local Mormon congregation on the subject of the Atonement of Christ. As among Christians generally, there are many interpretations of the Atonement among Mormons. In my experience, the interpretation I share here has considerable practical power for transforming the way I think, speak, and act for the better from day to day. I welcome your feedback and questions.
Each night, Christ is willingly wounded for our sins, hammered to the cross with fresh nails from the eternal conflict of desires, wills and laws. Seeking no vengeful punishment or sacrifice, except the repentent apology of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, he again satisfies justice in freely chosen mercy.
Each day, Christ rises from the garden tomb, turning our hearts and spirits to new heavens, growing from a new earth, stemming beyond present conflict. We are reassured that death is fragile enough to break as the roots of life dig deeper. As its buds press sunward, we imagine a flowering glory.
Night and day, Christ embraces and raises us in the infinite atonement of heaven and life beyond hell and death. Called, we take the name and suffer together, that we may join in the glory. We forgive as we are forgiven. We heal as we are healed. What was once a mystery is revealed in us as we labor, striving according to his working, which works in us mightily.
Terryl Givens gave the keynote speech at the recent Mormonism Engineering conference. This recording is the first of several from that conference that we will make available over the next few weeks.
This is a transcript of my presentation at the Mormonism Engineering conference at Claremont Graduate University on 7 March 2009. The paper, authored by Scott Howe and I, will soon be available.
Mormons almost universally acknowledge that we have a moral obligation and capacity to participate in the work of God, to bring about the immortality and eternal life of humanity. This acknowledgement focuses primarily on the advance of spiritual salvation, particularly through missionary and temple work. Such a focus is important, but it does not, in itself, satisfy the full extent of our obligation, which also includes the advance of physical salvation. Both the LDS Church and individual Mormons regularly demonstrate real concern and concerted effort to advance physical salvation, through means ranging from neighborhood service projects to large scale welfare and humanitarian programs. Yet we can and should do more.
Absolutely nothing if not sublimely eloquent, Dale Carrico criticizes transhumanism as necessarily superlative -- depending on exaggerations, absolutes, extremes, determinisms, and so forth.
I agree with his criticism of superlativity as nonsensical and practically detrimental. However, I disagree with his assessment of transhumanism's reliance on superlativity. Dale suggests that, without superlativity, transhumanism is nothing more than his own technoprogressivism, which he describes as a commitment to universal healthcare and pro-choice politics. He's incorrect.
For all the reasons that criticisms of superlativity do not apply to some theologies, such as those concerned with progressing gods, the criticisms also do not necessarily apply to transhumanism. For all the reasons that non-superlative theologies are not necessarily humanism, non-superlative transhumanism also is not necessarily technoprogressivism.
For good or ill, some ideologies are more powerful than others, precisely because of what Dale considers to be their cult-like attributes. The religious attitude will endure when and where the non-religious attitude will not. The power of the esthetic and the meaning of the myth will move the person that would otherwise halt apathetically. Superlatives have been and are certainly at play among those of us who are religious, but they are hardly universal.
Most transhumanists, of course, would not identify themselves as religious persons. Fine. Neither would early adherents to various major ideologies that we now commonly recognize as religions. Whether future persons identify transhumanists as religious or not, we're operating with a different esthetic than that espoused by Dale's technoprogressivism, with or without superlativity.
I don't know how long and to what extent transhumanism, or mormonism, will endure and excel as organizing forces, but I'll bet on something like them outlasting any ideology that expresses itself most fully in eloquent moderation.
I've heard through the grapevine that Leon Kass has told his students that Mormon Transhumanists are very confused persons. I invite Leon to explain to us our confusion, and put to rest my suspicion that what he really means is that we confuse him. What do you say, Leon?
Today, the United States of America celebrated the inauguration of President Barack Obama. While we may each identify various reasons to join in the celebration, there are a few that may stand out for Mormon Transhumanists.
In a short paper entitled "What is a Singleton?", Nick Bostrom defines "singleton" as a world order with a single decision-making entity at the highest level, and briefly describes a variety of possible singletons. Of particular interest, the paper notes the following: