The Struggle for Truth

Our academic lives are fraught with worry. Where is my next grant coming from ? How can I finish that marking and still get to Sweden by Thursday ? Why does my laptop keep saying “illegal action ?” Shall I try that weird new algorithm, or shall I just hack a quick solution before the team meeting ? Who was that person from Brussels ? Is that the same woman who sent me that email ? Where did I file it ? Is X plotting against me because their proposal is up the same round, or am I just being paranoid ? Why do I keep getting a “no such module” error message ??

Then sometimes you just stop. Do nothing for an hour or three and the dust of a thousand truths has time to settle slowly on your head. This could be the time when you reach a simple scientific insight. Or it could be when your head turns to spiritual matters. Does all this stuff, life, etc, have any meaning ? What will happen when I die ? Now from a scientist’s point of view, the trouble with religions is, well, they can’t all be right. Which one is the true religion ? How do you know ? (For the purposes of debate, I am ignoring the obvious option, that all religions are just a pile of dingos kidneys).

My kids have found the answer. You get ’em to slug it out in a nice safe virtual world. I came across the wee ones playing an Internet Flash game which seemed to consist of a bloke that looked like an Alien boxing with a bloke that looked like a Monk. This they said, was Faith Fighter where you pick a deity and start fighting. What I saw was apparently Xenu (from Scientology) versus Buddha. You can also choose Jesus, God, Ganesh, or Muhammad, pbuh. (Before you enter the site, you get warned about the Muhammad depiction thing and get offered a censored version with no face).

I must say I found their particular choices problematic. Scientology of course isn’t really a religion but a pyramid selling scheme. Arguably Buddhism isn’t really a religion either, and it doesn’t have a deity, who certainly isn’t Buddha. But of course thats just me being an intellectual Western hippy type. If you just look at actions rather than concepts, and see temples and incense and chanting and so on, it sure looks like a religion, and Tibetan Buddhism seems to be full of fairy tales. But anyhoo. There is a gamers forum debate about Faith Fighter here, and another similar game with the wonderful title of Adult Swim Bible Fight. This also features some bee-yoo-tiful music, which I know I know … I think maybe its that thing that Mozart memorised at the Vatican ?? Help anybody ?

Perhaps violence is the only way to settle arguments. I once had a friend who was a convinced Determinist, and another who believed in Free Will. Lets call them A and B. After twenty minutes of stubborn debate, B kicks A on the shin. “Ow !” says A, “what did you do that for ?”. “Sorry old chap” says B, “I guess it was just going to happen, nothing I could do.” Then B kept kicking A on the shin until he admitted that Free Will existed, which he finally did.

Course, all those events were just … I don’t need to finish, do I ?

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7 Responses to The Struggle for Truth

  1. Malte says:

    Sweden on Thursday? *interested*

  2. andyxl says:

    ah .. sorry .. I am afraid the trip to Sweden is only a fictional example ..

  3. Malte says:

    Pity. Should you wish to defictionalise, you can get pretty quick .sco-.se transport with SAS (Turnhouse) or Ryanair (Prestwick). And you’d be most welcome over here.

  4. Martin E. says:

    Andy: check out this “Neural Buddhists’ article for another view.
    ttp://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/13/opinion/13brooks.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
    We can be non-religious and spiritual too. Wham! Take that, monotheists!!

  5. andyxl says:

    Hmm. Interesting. I guess study of neurology can indeed undermine the idea of a consistent self, while re-inforcing some more generic idea of consciousness, and that does sound like Buddhism – there is no self, but there is a kind of universal substrate that your body temporarily participates in. And yes, while most scientists can’t swallow the idea of a personal god, they can go along with some kind of philosophical pantheism. Martin, I know you are one of those few who read this early post about mysticism and science, so you know that I feel that Buddhism still doesn’t quite cut it. If there is no self, what is it that re-incarnates ?

    I believe there is a variety of Vedantic Hinduism that doesn’t have personal re-incarnation.

    Talking of Hinduism, Ganesh is an odd choice for the Hindu Faith Fighter. Maybe they couldn’t have Shiva, as he would just kick the shit out of everybody without trying. Kali would be pretty kick-ass too. And Brahman is already everybody else anyway, so that would get confusing.

  6. Martin E. says:

    Well, you shouldna take ‘Buddhists’ too literally in that piece. The neural buddhist doesn’t give a rat’s ass about re-incarnation etc. But the *techniques* of Buddhism can be real and useful, even if the *beliefs* about them are a pile of dingos. [Also check out Karen Armstrong, in her book on Buddhism, I think. She reckons spirituality, feelings of transendence etc. are just a property of the brain. (Odd that she turns up at churches acting as though Christian then.) Is this a brain misfiring somehow? or is it some deeply necessary function? dunno.

    And, by the by, ‘self’ is an emergent property of brains in this view: so it an be fractionated AND one. Golly! Getting a bit Trinitarian here, aren’t we? who’d a thunk it?

  7. Steve W says:

    I think the piece you want is Allegri’s Miserere.

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