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.
No surprise to learn that neuroscientists at Duke University have found evidence that popular music can be predicted based on harmonics characteristic of human speech. Of course, the link between anatomy and esthetics goes far deeper than this.
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!
Last night, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the cost of dying (thanks to Loyd at Project Mayhem for pointing this out). The segment identifies various economic and social costs associated with the last months of a typical person's life in the United States, and argues that a substantial portion of the cost is frivolous, with "no meaningful impact".
Wow! This is strange. I just received this press release from the LDS Church in my news reader. However, the link is dead, and the article appears to have been removed. What does that mean? Site hacked? Story unapproved? Second thoughts? On at least one occasion, previously, the LDS Church included a statement like this in a press release focused on another matter. However, they hadn't taken steps to reaffirm the statement. Such reaffirmation would, in my estimation, be a constructive and wonderful thing. Bring it on!
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.
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.
Slate Magazine recently featured a series of articles investigating the question, "How Is America Going To End?" One of the articles responded, "The Catholic Church helped preserve Roman civilization. Can Mormonism do the same for America?"
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.
In a study at Bright University, a majority of test subjects given a particular pattern of brain stimulation had full-blown dog experiences. Such research is shedding light on the chemical reactions that take place in the brain when people feel they are encountering dogs.
Some have criticized Mormon Transhumanists, or even scientific- and technologically-leaning Mormons generally, as "looking beyond the mark" and not relying enough on faith, grace, priesthood, revelation, spirituality, God or something else presupposed to be at odds with science and technology. This criticism is entirely inconsistent with Mormonism, as I discuss a bit more in this post.
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: