Thursday, December 21, 2006

Anything else?

While mentioning scientific work on religion I should mention something that is available on the net and which is truly mind-blowing. is a very cool site which has lots of interesting articles and, most recently, has material on a conference called “Beyond Belief” which took place in November at the Salk Institute in California and at which some of the current scientific greats discussed religious faith. Dawkins was one of those present and, best of all, video of the full conference is available for download so that it is possible to sit down at home and to watch the whole discussion. What was quite good was to see both what was said as well as what was not said – it was certainly a pity that Dennett was not there due to having had to undergo emergency heart surgery only a few days before the conference as he would have helped to direct the conference away from less fruitful topics. One person who seemed more keen on arguing rather than developing an interesting exchange of ideas was Sam Harris. I had to agree with those who felt that Harris’ view of terrorism as primarily religious in basis is too simplistic – his failure to properly examine the political reasons for terrorism was made quite clear by a couple of the other participants. It was good, on the other hand, that a few religious people were present at the conference making it necessary for the atheists to be more careful with their assessments – without a critical response opinions tend to become oversimplified – much as biological features tend to atrophy when no longer functional. I found it very interesting to finally see many people who were previously only known to me through their books and also found out about a number of writers whose books I should make sure to read in the future. In all, for those, like me, interested in such issues, this is a great way to blow a day or two. I suspect that I will be coming back to this video as well as the Dennett book.

Another thing in my life recently has been my brother, who had lived on the other side of the globe. He arrived in Europe a couple of months ago and now looks to be moving here on a more permanent basis, only spending a few months each year in the balmy South Pacific (probably the northern winter months, at that). He and I have lived in different countries for many, many years now but have remained quite close none-the-less, so having him here is something of a luxury. I find it a great comfort to be able to talk to him about things that I did not really have anyone to talk to till he arrived and, I can see, that he feels similarly. What is interesting is that he came here without any clear intentions and much to tie him to anywhere but, within a relatively short time, found a woman that he is now thinking about quite seriously – which is one of the reasons for his decision to spend most of his time here.

While all this is happening, the local politics is becoming more and more insane, with the ruling coalition made up of nationalists, pseudo-fascists and populists doing everything they can to undermine the nation’s economy, society, international standing and political culture. They are indeed most suitable for the role of Dubya’s mongrel brood – not quite as intelligent or as subtle as their master but doing their best to make up for their numerous shortcomings by sheer enthusiasm. And the amazing thing is that despite everything they have done, their numbers are refusing to fall much below what they were at the last national elections. Of course, much the same thing happened to Bush, but the US had been suffering from paranoia brought on by the spectacular attack on the World Trade Centre, while the only terrorists here have been purely the invention of some of the less intellectually and ethically developed members of the populist party (something of an achievement in itself).

In short, there has been plenty happening in the last few months.


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