Category Archives: books

Discrimination of alternative beliefs/medicine

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Another excerpt from Why we believe what we believe:

The propensity to believe that other people’s values are misguided has fostered centuries of animosity throughout the world. When the early Christian missionaries first observed shamanic rituals practiced by indigenous tribes outside Europe, they usually thought of these rites as the devil’s work. They believed that punishment and conversion were essential for the salvation of the natives’ souls. The French Franciscan priest Andre Thevet, when visiting Brazil in 1557, noted in his diary:

I cannot cease to wonder how it is that in a land of law and police, one allows to proliferate like filth a bunch of old witches who put herbs on their arms [and] hang written words around their necks…to cure fevers and other things, which are only true idolatry, and worthy of great punishment.”

How would such priests react today if they were to wander down the aisles of an American health-food store filled with exotic tinctures and herbal preparations? The sheer numbers of Proestants alive would no doubt make them long for another Inquisition.

Motta on psychiatric brainwashing & witch-hunting

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The process is also not exclusive to the Soviets: it has been regularly used in so-called “free countries” for more than half a century. Not only rich people are declared insane, and interned, while their relatives “administer” their property, likewise scholars or scientists who offend the effective standards are constantly placed in asylums. Three recent examples in one of the most progressive countries of the world, the United States of America, had been the writer Ezra Pound, psychologist Wilhelm Reich, and recently Professor Timothy Leary.

 

Ezra Pound was placed in an insane asylum for having declared himself in favour of the fascists in World War II. He was one of the greatest American poets, and was free for some years. If someone among our readers finds that Pound does not deserve our affection because he was a fascist[1], this reader sufficiently runs the risk of sympathisizing with the position of the medieval inquisitors: that the fact of us being “true” and the others “mistaken”, gives us the right to restrict them, or to try to change their opinion through punitive methods. This, by the way, is a position that the fascists would warmly approve of!

 

The difference between the pillories of the Inquisition and the brainwashing of the politically modern “psychiatric” hospitals (whether left or right) is a difference of degree, and not of type. The oppression is not less intolerable because it leaves torturing the body to concentrate itself in the spirit.

 

Wilhem Reich was placed in an insane asylum for insisting that children should be permitted, since coming of age, to observe the sexual activity of adults. The shock of being interned unbalanced his mind, recognized as brilliant, and died sick (which he wasn’t before being interned). Professor Timothy Leary was placed in an insane asylum for defending the use of LSD, and freely teaching its manufacture. Recently he was freed, and he has made conferences against the use of psychedelics, programmed by governmental authorities. – Marcelo Ramos Motta

 

[1] Editor Note (Paul Joseph Rovelli): During this period in history, many Americans were clamoring for a fascist dictator to lead them out of the depression.  It was the innovation of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ that headed this off.  And for a brief time, Roosevelt effectively had dictatorial control of the country.  That is how he got his program through Congress.

 

Translated from the Portuguese by me

The power of belief

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Excerpt from Why we believe what we believe: Uncovering our biological need for meaning, spirituality and truth by Andrew Newberg, MD author of Why God won’t go away.

Mr. Wright wasn’t expected to live through the night. His body was riddled with tumors, his liver and spleen were enlarged, his lungs were filled with fluid, and he needed an oxygen mask to breathe. But when Mr. Wright heard that his doctor was conducting cancer research with a new drug called Krebiozen, which the media were touting as a potential miracle cure, he pleaded to be given treatments. Although it was against protocol, Dr. Klopfer honored Mr. Wright’s request by giving him an injection of the drug, then left the hospital for the weekend, never expecting to see his patient again. But when he returned on Monday morning, he discovered that Mr. Wrights’s tumors had shrunk to half their original size, something that even radiation treatments could not have accomplished.

“Good God!” thought Dr. Klopfer. “Hasve we finally found the silver bullet–a cure for cancer?” Unfortunately, an examination of the other test patients showed no changes at all. Only Mr. Wright had improved. WWas this a rare case of spontaneous remission, or was some other unidentified mechanism at work? The doctor continued to give injections to his recovering patient, and after ten days practically all signs of the disease had disappeared. Wright returned home, in perfect health.

Two months later, the Food and Drug Administration reported that the experiments with Krebiozen were proving ineffective. Mr. Wright heard about the reports and immediately became ill. His tumors returned, and he was readmitted to the hospital. Now, Dr. Klopfer was convinced that the patient’s belief in the drug’s effectiveness had originally healed him. To test his theory, he decided to lie, telling Mr. Wright about a “new, super-refined, double-strength product” that was guaranteed to produce better results. Mr. Wright agreed to try this “new” version of what he believed had healed his tumors before, but in reality, Dr. Klopfer gave him injections of sterile water.

Once again, Mr. Wright’s recovery was dramatic. His tumors disappeared, and he resumed his normal life–until the newspapers published an announcement by the American Medical Association under the headline “Nationwide Tests Show Krebiozen to Be a Worthless Drug in Treatment of Cancer.”

After reading this, Mr. Wright fell ill again, returned to the hospital, and died two days later. In a report published in the Journal of Projective Techniques, Dr. Klopfer concluded that when the power of Wright’s optimistic beliefs expired, his resistance to the disease expired as well.

[…] Beliefs govern nearly every aspect of our lives. They tell us how to pray and how to vote, whom to trust and whom to avoid; and they shape our personal behaviors and spiritual ethics throughout life. But once our beliefs are established, we rarely challenge their validity, even when faced with contradictory evidence. Thus, when we encounter others who appear to hold differing beliefs, we tend to dismiss or disparage them. Furthmore, we have a knee-jerk tendency to reject others who are not members of our own group. Even when their belief systems are fundamentally similar to ours, we still feel that they are significantly different. […] Ignorance is only partly to blame. A more significant reason is that our brains are instinctually prone to reject information that does not conform to our prior experience and knowledge. Simply put, old beliefs, like habits, die hard.

[…] The study of human beliefs often raises unsettling issues, since most people are not aware that many fo our beliefs are based on incomplete assumptions about the world. How, then, can beliefs be so powerful that they can heal us, or so destructive that they can cause us to suffer and die?

[…] I realized that if I was to have any hope of understanding why people believe what they do, I would have to study the part of us that actually does the believing–the human mind–for no matter what we see, feel, think, or do, it must all be processed through the brain. After years of study, I have come to see that a profound chasm exists between the world “out there” and our internal consciousness, and that this fundamental disconnection prevents us from ever truly “knowing” reality. Still, we seem to have little choice but to trust our neural perceptions.

We are born to believe because we have no other alternative. Because we can never get outside ourselves, we must make assumptions–usually lots of them–to make sense of the world “out there.” The spiritual beliefs we adhere to and the spiritual experiences we can have are also influenced by our neural circuitry and its limitations.

…prejudice seems rooted in human nature, for the human brain has a propensity to reject any belief that is not in accord with one’s own view. However, each person also has the biological power to interrupt detrimental, derogatory beliefs and generate new ideas. The new ideas, in turn, can alter the neural circuitry that governs how we behave and what we believe. Our beliefs may be static, but they aren’t necessarily static. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the workings of a child’s mind, which is constantly struggling to develop and maintain a stable worldview. Furthermore, children’s and adult’s belief systems are continually being altered by other people’s beliefs.

The adult human brain is childlike in another way; we automatically assume that what other people tell us is true, particularly if the idea appeals to our deep-seated fantasies and desires. Advertisers often take advantage of this neural tendency, and even though consumer advoates and some laws have helped to level the playing field, the general rule “Buyer beware” still prevails.[…]

We are born with a natural tendency to trust what others say, and we certainly can’t take the time to question every piece of information we receive. Think how long it would take to verify even half the claims that are made in just a single magazine. […]

Skepticism challenges established institutions. If we teach everybody, including, say, high school students, habits of skeptical thought, they will probably not restrict their skepticism to UFOs, aspirin commercials, and 35,000-year-old channelees. Maybe they’ll start asking awkward questions about economic, or social, or political, or religious institutions. Perhaps they’ll challenge the opinions of those in power. Then where would we be? – Carl Sagan

[…] In medical research, I feel it is wise to be skeptical about new treatments because we are dealing with people’s health and lives. I need to see a good amount of persuasive evidence and data before I’m comfortable trying a new procedure. However, my skepticism can ultimately lead to my becoming open-minded and trying a new treatment, which can lead to better health for my patients. If I were to apply this clinical skepticism to everything, I’d be living in a constant state of doubt, which is a very inefficient way to live on a day-to-day basis. Marriage is a perfect example; at some point in every intimate relationship we have to abandon our doubts and believe that our partner will continue to be trustworthy in the future. In other words, we have to have faith in ourselves, and in other people with whom we interact regularly, especially those we love.

Mr. Wright had to have faith in his doctor, and Dr. Klopfer had to have faith in the power of his patient’s belief. Such faith transcends reason, rationality, and skepticism, and has the power to heal, but there is nothing magical about it. In fact, you can evoke placebo effects in mice and other animals. […] studies have found that injections of harmless substances–even water–can trigger the suppression of tumors in rats (this is known as a learned immunosuppression response), but there is also evidence that these conditioned rats have a weaker ability to resist tumors that occur at a later date. This may indicate that our positive beliefs might help to postpone the inevitable decline of health.

To a very large extent men and women are a product of how they define themselves. as a result of combination of innate ideas and the intimate influences of the culture and environment we grow up in, we come to have beliefs about the nature of being human. These beliefs penetrate to a very deep level of our psychosomatic systems, our minds and brains, our nervous systems, our endocrine systrems, and even our blood and sinews. We act, speak, and think accordingly to these deeply held beliefs and belief systems. – Jeremy W. Hayward, author and physicist

Synonyms for Belief: Opinion, conviction, confidence, faith, trust, assumption, expectation, certainty, persuasion, assurance, acceptance, doctrine, dogma, tenet, principle, creed, supposition, attitude, allegation, knowledge, interpretation, representation, judgement, argument, advice, estimation, passion, sincerity, hope, theory, premise, possibility, probability, conjecture, hypothesis, worldview, guess.

On wholeness & happiness

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In He: Understanding Masculine Psychology by Robert A. Johnson, we read:
The word “enthusiasm” is a beautiful word. In Greek it means “to be filled with God.” […]
The implication of this number symbolism may also relate to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. This is a thorny subject and I don’t want to go very far with it, but it would seem that the Trinitarian view of man’s nature, or the Godhead, is incomplete. The threeness of God requires the inclusion of the fourth to achieve completeness and stability. Anytime one has a Trinitarian system going there will be an adversary somewhere, for something will have been left out. What has been rejected will reappear as the devil, for whenever something of the spirit that belongs to wholeness is excluded it turns against us. Jung has made quite a bit of this and often suggests that what has been excluded from the Christian Trinity is the dark, feminine element in life. So it comes back to plague us as a kind of cthonic evil.[…]
Alexis de Toqueville, a Frenchman who came to America more than a century ago, made some astute observations about the American temperament, atmosphere, and idiom. He said that we have a misleading idea in our Constitution, the pursuit of happiness. One can’t pursue happiness; it won’t work.
A formulation for these days could go something like this: “If you will serve your reality, you will be flooded with happiness. But if you merely search for happiness, you will dispel the very happiness for which you are looking.”

On willing, thinking, sincere emotions, knowledge & ideals

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excerpts from “Escape from Freedom” by Erich Fromm

p. 197

What holds true of thinking and feeling holds also true of willing. Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.

p. 193

We have an example of ‘rational’ rationalization when a person, A, who finds himself in a situation of economic distress, asks a relative of his, B, to lend him a sum of money. B declines and says that he does so because by lending him money he could only support B’s inclinations to be irresponsible and to lean on others for support. Now this reasoning may be perfectly sound, but it would nevertheless be a rationalization because B had not wanted to let A have the money in any event, and although he believes himself to be motivated by concern for A’s welfare he is actually motivated by his own stinginess. We cannot learn, therefore, whether we are dealing with a rationalization merely by determining the logicality of a person’s statement as such, but we must also take into account the psychological motivations operating in a person. The decisive point is not what is thought but how it is thought. The thought that is the result of active thinking is always new and original; original, not necessarily in the sense that others have not thought it before, but always in the sense that the person who thinks has used thinking as a tool to discover something new in the world outside or inside of himself. Rationalizations are essentially lacking this quality of discovering and uncovering; they only confirm the emotional prejudice existing in oneself. Rationalizing is not a tool for penetration of reality but a post-factum attempt to harmonize one’s own wishes with existing reality.

p. 241

…most children have a certain sense of hostility and rebelliousness as a result of their conflicts with a surrounding world that tends to block their expansiveness and to which, as the weaker opponent, they usually have to yield. It is one of the essential aims of the educational process to eliminate this antagonistic reaction. The methods are different; they vary from threats and punishments, which frighten the child, to the subtler methods of bribery or “explanations,” which confuse the child and make him give up his hostility. The child starts with giving up the expression of his feeling and eventually gives up the very feeling itself. Together with that, he is taught to suppress the awareness of hostility and insincerity in others; sometimes this is not entirely easy, since children have a capacity for noticing such negative qualities in others without being so easily deceived by words as adults usually are. They still dislike somebody “for no good reason” — except the very good one that they feel the hostility, or insincerity, radiating from that person. This reaction is soon discouraged; it does not take long for the child to reach the “maturity” of the average adult and to lose the sense of discrimination between a decent person and a scoundrel; as long as they latter has not committed some flagrant act.

On the other hand, early in his education, the child is taught to have feelings that are not at all “his”; particularly is he taught to like people, to be uncritically friendly to them, and to smile. What education may not have accomplished is usually done by peer pressure in later life. If you do not smile you are judged lacking a “pleasing personality” — and you need to have a pleasing personality if you want to sell your services, whether as a waitress, a salesman, or a physician. Only those at the bottom of the social pyramid, who sell nothing but their physical labor, and those at the very top do not need to be particularly “pleasant.” Friendliness, cheerfulness, and everything that a smile is supposed to express, become automatic responses which one turns on and off like an electric switch.

To be sure, in many instances the person is aware of merely making a gesture; in most cases, however, he loses that awareness and thereby the ability to discriminate between the pseudo feeling and spontaneous friendliness.

p. 245

In the process of tabooing emotions modern psychiatry plays an ambiguous role. On the one hand its greatest representative, Freud, has broken through the fiction of the rational, purposeful, character of the human mind and opened a path which allows a view into the abyss of human passions. On the other hand psychiatry, enriched by these very achievements of Freud, has made itself an instrument of the general trends in the manipulation of personality. Many psychiatrists, including psychoanalysts, have painted the picture of a “normal” personality which is never too sad, too angry, or too excited. They use words like “infantile” or “neurotic” to denounce traits or types of personalities that do not conform with the conventional pattern of a “normal” individual. This kind of influence is in a way more dangerous than the older and franker forms of name-calling. Then the individual knew at least there was some person or some doctrine which criticized him and he could fight back. But who can fight back at “science”?

p. 247

Hundreds of scattered and unrelated facts are dumped into the heads of students; their time and energy are taken up by learning more and more facts so that there is little left for thinking. To be sure, thinking without a knowledge of facts remains empty and fictitious; but “information” alone can be just as much of an obstacle to thinking as the lack of it.

Another closely related way of discouraging original thinking is to regard all truth as relative. Truth is made out to be a metaphysical concept, and if anyone speaks about wanting to discover the truth he is thought backward by the “progressive” thinkers of our age. Truth is declared to be an entirely subjective matter, almost a matter of taste. Scientific endeavor must be detached from subjective factors, and its aim is to look at the world without passion and interest. The scientist has to approach facts with sterilized hands as a surgeon approaches his patient. The result of this relativism, which often presents itself by the name of empiricism or positivism or which recommends itself by its concern for the correct usage of words, is that thinking loses its essential stimulus — the wishes and interests of the person whoo thinks; instead it becomes a machine to register “facts.” Actually, just as thinking in general has developed out of the need for mastery of material life, so the quest for truth is rooted in the interests and needs of individuals and social groups.

p. 249

…it would seem that many of the basic issues of individual and social life are very simple, so simple, in fact, that everyone should be expected to understand them. To let them appear to be so enormously complicated that only a “specialist” can understand them, and he only in his own limited field, actually — and then intentionally — tends to discourage people from trusting their own capacity to think about those problems that really matter. The individual feels helplessly caught in a chaotic mass of data and with pathetic patience waits until the specialists have found out what to do and where to go.

p. 262

Men are born equal but they are also born different. The basis of this difference is the inherited equipment, physicological and mental, with which they start life, to which is added the particular constellation of circumstances and experiences that they meet with. […] What the concept of equality does not mean is that all men are alike. Such a concept of equality is derived from the role that the individual plays in his economic activities today. In the relation between the man who buys and the one who sells, the concrete differences of personality are eliminated. In this situation only one thing matters, that the one has something to sell and the other has money to buy it. In economic life one man is not different from another; as real persons they are, and the cultivation of their uniqueness is the essence of individuality.

p. 264

To say that man should not be subject to anything higher than himself does not deny the dignity of ideals. On the contrary, it is the strongest affirmation of ideals. It forces us, however, to a critical analysis of what an ideal is. One is generally apt today to assume that an ideal is any aim whose achievement does not imply material gain, anything for which a person is ready to sacrifice egotistical ends. This is a purely psychological — and for that matter relativistic — concept of an ideal. From this subjective viewpoint a Fascist, who is driven by the desire to subordinate himself to a higher power and at the same time to overpower other people, has an ideal just as much as the man who fights for human equality and freedom. On this basis the problem of ideals can never be solved.

We must recognize the difference between genuine and fictitious ideals, which is just as fundamental a difference as that between truth and falsehood. All genuine ideals have one thing in common: they express the desire for something which is not yet accomplished but which is desirable for the purposes of the growth and happiness of the individual.

p. 265

Many psychologists have assumed that the experience of pleasure and the avoidance of pain is the only legitimate principle guiding human action; but dynamic psychology can show that the subjective experience of pleasure is not a sufficient criterion for the value of certain behavior in terms of human happiness. The analysis of masochistic phenomena is a case in point. Such analysis shows that the sensation of pleasure can be the result of a pathological perversion and proves as little about the objective meaning of the experience as the sweet taste of a poison would prove about its function for the organism. We thus come to define a genuine ideal as any aim which furthers the growth, freedom, and happiness of the self, and to define as fictitious ideals those compulsive and irrational aims which subjectively are attractive experiences (like the drive for submission), but which actually are harmful to life. Once we accept this definition, it follows that a genuine ideal is not some veiled force superior to the individual, but that it is the articulate expression of utmost affirmation of the self. Any ideal which is in contrast to such affirmation proves by this very fact that it is not an ideal but a pathological aim.

excerpt from Motta’s Chinese Equinox

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Xiao Chu means‚ “small restraint‚” or conversely, restraint in small things, so we can accumulate virtue.  We append a deep Taoistic comment:

The Master said:  “The petty man is not ashamed of what is not benevolent, nor fears doing what is not right.  Without prospect of profit, he does not dedicate himself to what is good ,and without pressure from others; he does not redress his errors.  However, self-correction in small things would make him chary in things of greater consequence.  If good deeds are not accumulated, they will not be sufficient to create character in us; if bad deeds are not accumulated, they will not be sufficient to disrupt our lives.  The petty man thinks that small good deeds are unimportant and does not do them; he thinks that small bad deeds are unimportant and does not abstain from them. Thus his evil accumulates until it can no longer be disguised, and his guilt grows until it becomes intolerable.”

The reader should not interpret the expression‚ “good deeds‚” in the maudlin and lukewarm sense of ” kindness” or “giving alms.”  Good deeds consist in correct behavior, virtue (in the old sense of manliness; better yet, humanness‚ (the quality is not foreign to women as it is often more evident in them), honesty, self-discipline.  And “bad deeds” are the opposite of this:  laxity, petty lying, small thefts or hypocrisies.

There is no “sanction” or “reward” on the part of “divine beings” in regard to such acts.  There is nobody “watching us” to send us either to heaven or to hell, according to our behavior.  The importance of right conduct is that it created integrity in us, and this eventually, makes of us, living Gods.

Cf. the Dao De Jing, chapters XVI, XVII, LIV, LIX, LXIII, LXIV.

excerpt from “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

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So we were shy at first, your father and I, neither of us able to speak to each other in our Chinese dialects. We went to English class together, speaking to each other in those new words and sometimes taking out a piece of paper to write a Chinese character to show what we meant.  At least we had that, a piece of paper to hold us together. But it’s hard to tell someone’s marriage intentions when you can’t say things aloud. All those little signs – the teasing, the bossy, scolding words – that’s how you know if it is serious. But we could talk only in the manner of our English teacher. I see cat. I see rat. I see hat. But I saw soon enough how much  your father liked me.
[…]
That evening An-mei and I went to work and searched through strips of fortune cookie paper, trying to find the right instructions to give to your father. An-mei read them aloud, putting aside ones that might work: “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Don’t ever settle for a pal.” “If such thoughts are in your head, it’s time to be wed.” “Confucius say a woman is worth a thousand words. Tell your wife she’s used up her total.”
We laughed over those. But I knew the right one when I read it. It said: “A house is not home when a spouse is not at home.” I did not laugh. I wrapped up this saying in a pancake, bending the cookie with all my heart.
After school the next afternoon, I put my hand in my purse and then made a look, as if a mouse had bitten my hand. “What’s this?” I cried. Then I pulled out the cookie and handed it to your father. “Eh! So many cookies, just to see them makes me sick. You take this cookie.”
I knew even then he had a nature that did not waste anything. He opened the cookie and he crunched it in his mouth, and then read the piece of paper.
“What does it say?” I asked. I tried to act as if it did not matter. And when he still did not speak, I said,”Translate, please.”
We were walking in Portsmouth Square and already the fog had blown in and I was very cold in my thin coat. So I hoped your father would hurry and ask me to marry him. But instead, he kept his serious look and said,”I don’t know this word ‘spouse.’ Tonight I will look in my dictionary. Then I can tell you the meaning tomorrow.”
The next day he asked me in English,”Lindo, can you spouse me?” And I laughed at him and said he used that word incorrectly. So he came back and made a Confucius joke, that if the words were wrong, then his intentions must also be wrong. We scolded and joked with each other all day long like this, and that is how we decided to get married.