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The Alliance for Positive Thought Blog The Alliance for Positive Thought strives to bring happiness to its members through meditation, cognitive therapy, and music, while teaching how to find meaning in the world without religion. APT is a home for all of us who have trouble believing in the supernatural, but who realize that our desires for happiness and community are real needs which are shared by most members of our species. We are devoted to finding happiness, and helping our members find meaning, without the traditional crutches of self-deception. http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog Sun, 21 Apr 2019 14:26:54 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Not Your Grandma's Transhumanism http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/4-technology/29-not-your-grandmas-transhumanism http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/4-technology/29-not-your-grandmas-transhumanism Ray Kurzweil & Co. have been getting a lot of attention from everyone from Sergey Brin & Larry Page to astronaut Dan Barry.  For those of you who haven’t heard, Kurzweil is a self-proclaimed techno-prophet who heralds the arrival of the singularity: the moment in time when technological progress gets so fast that machines overtake humans in the brains department.

I miss cupcakesOf course, artificial intelligence is a common sci-fi theme.  Kurzweil’s cadre takes it a step further, predicting that this intelligence explosion means immortality for us meat-bags.  By downloading our personalities into computers and/or building nanobots to repair our aging cells, we will reach a level of mastery of science that will enable us to extend our lives indefinitely.

But Kurzweil has no monopoly on the future.  Some versions of the singularity include unpredictability as a core feature.  Like a black hole’s event horizon, the singularity represents a point in history about which no information can be gathered.  It is a unique event that will shred our way of life in ways we cannot prognosticate.

Sci-fi authors frequently foretell a more dystopian version, like in Asimov’s I, Robot, or The Matrix, where the machines turn on us.  As Roger Scruton points out, by sponsoring technology we might be rooting against ourselves.

But predictions of technological calamity rest on even shakier ground than runaway progress.  iRobot (not I, Robot) is the status quo in the real world of technology.  Human beings seem to be more or less on course for continued progress, and immortality and extinction are opposite, extreme ends of the speculative spectrum.

The real problem with Singuphoria is that it is just another false promise, like religion.  We all want to believe we will live forever, and Ray’s got the immortal soul snake-oil of the information age.

Ray Kurzweil says in his health book Transcend:

"Death gives meaning to life” is an age-old adage, but in our view death does exactly the opposite.  It is a great robber of relationships, knowledg,e wisdom and skill, all the things that make life worth living.

But he’s wrong.  Death is what allows evolution to occur, and therefore what undergirds all progress.  Think about the idea of “technology natives” versus “technology immigrants.”  Kids who grew up with cellphones and computers are much more fluent in their use than those who had to learn after their brains got hard and brittle.  Every generation refreshes the world, to put a marketing slogan to better use.

guanshi.edyo@positivethought.org (Guanshi Edyo) Technology Tue, 15 Jun 2010 01:38:58 +0000
Walking Meditation for Atheists http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/7-positive-thought/28-walking-meditation-for-atheists http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/7-positive-thought/28-walking-meditation-for-atheists Take a look at this walking meditation video:
Walking meditation is a technique for creating a positive state of mind.  Despite its religious origin, executing the technique requires no belief in any kind of supernatural power or phenomena. 

What’s going on here is that the act of walking provides a focal point for thoughts.  If you just tell someone to focus on a thought, it’s very difficult.  That’s why meditation techniques often feature an activity such as walking or breathing that helps the practitioner filter out distractions.   Focusing on positive thoughts then enables us to make use of the biomechanical link between our brains and our bodies.  This is all very scientific, whether or not the Buddhists knew it when they developed these techniques.

Thich Nhat Hanh is probably not an Atheist. He asks how we will walk once we are in the Kingdom of God, and notes that if we take unhappy steps we will pollute that otherworldly realm.  Of course, you and I believe in no such thing.

guanshi.edyo@positivethought.org (Guanshi Edyo) Positive Thought Thu, 10 Jun 2010 23:00:43 +0000
Singer's Societal Suicide Suggestion http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/9-philosophy/27-singers-societal-suicide-suggestion http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/9-philosophy/27-singers-societal-suicide-suggestion Yesterday’s most-viewed New York Times article was by purported philosopher Peter Singer, who asks whether it might be ethical for us to all stop having children, and in effect commit societal suicide.  He wonders whether life contains too much suffering to make it worthwhile.  Ultimately, he concludes that life is actually worth it, but only because he is optimistic about humanity’s prospects for learning from our past mistakes.

But there is something deeply troubling about resting a valuation of life on how much pleasure it contains.  Studies show that no matter how healthy or prosperous, or unfortunate and impoverished, most humans return to a baseline level of satisfaction set by genetic factors or upbringing.  Chasing pleasure therefore is a fool's errand and certainly should not be the cornerstone of any ethical philosophy.

Moreover, the conflation of "pleasure" and "benefit" is a purely arbitrary decision on Singer’s part.  If the promotion of life itself is chosen as the route by which we can best understand "benefit," the "deep issues" raised by Singer melt away.  Using the promotion of life as our basic ethical measuring stick, we can derive the importance of quality of life and health, while at the same time shedding ourselves of the ludicrous suggestion that we have an ethical imperative to commit societal suicide.

guanshi.edyo@positivethought.org (Guanshi Edyo) Philosophy Tue, 08 Jun 2010 18:37:31 +0000
Evidence that Religious People are Healthier and Happier http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/26-evidence-that-religious-people-are-healthier-and-happier http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/26-evidence-that-religious-people-are-healthier-and-happier Atheists are quick to attack the basis for the claim that, in general, religious people are happier and healthier than nonbelievers.  But that hypothesis supports the core of what the Alliance for Positive Thought advocates.  We believe that religion has concrete benefits, but also unacceptable failures. 

Myth and faith are unacceptable to skeptical, scientific minds.  But that doesn't require us to attack all benefits of religion.  APT seeks to replicate the health benefits of religion by analyzing and emulating its practices, while surgically removing anything resembling the supernatural.

Independent, scientific evidence supports the claim that religion has tangible benefits.  Rather than attempting to deny them, skeptics should wholeheartedly embrace the pursuit of alternative ways to arrive at these positive phenomena.

The following is a brief introduction to the vast body of scientific support for the following three claims:

  1. Religion promotes health and happiness.
  2. Such benefits are not unique to theistic practice.
  3. Exclusively theistic practices (that cannot be secularly replicated) DO NOT have these benefits.

Religion promotes health and happiness.

Religious People Are Generally Healthier

National Institute of Health (various studies support link between religion and health and happiness)

Churchgoers Live Longer

Religious People Live Longer than Nonbelievers

Is God an Anti-Depressant?  Studies Show That Religious People Are Happier

Church-going Kids Have Better GPAs

Transcendent Meditation Has Positive Effect on Blood Pressure

Religion Promotes Happiness

More Young People Who Think Spirituality is Important are Happy

More Frequent Daily Spiritual Experience Correlates With Less Psychopathology, More Close Friendships, and Better Self-rated Health

Benefits can be achieved without theism.

Study: Optimists Live Longer

When We Do Good, We Feel Good

Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy As Good As Meditation

Music is a Viable Treatment for Depression, Insomnia, and Alzheimer’s Disease

Thought Patterns Can Lead to Mood Improvement

Social Ties Lead to Longer Lives

Uniquely theistic practices are not beneficial.

Prayer Does Not Help Heart Bypass Patients

Religious Belief Does Not Correlate With Positive Mental Health Outcomes But Religious Practice Does

guanshi.edyo@positivethought.org (Guanshi Edyo) Religion Thu, 04 Feb 2010 01:36:23 +0000
How can an American turn into a Muslim terrorist? http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/25-how-can-an-american-turn-into-a-muslim-terrorist http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/25-how-can-an-american-turn-into-a-muslim-terrorist Omar Hammami was born and raised in Alabama, dated a prom queen, played soccer, and looked like a normal American kid.  Yet now he is a key figure in a Jihadist unit that conducts murders and suicide bombings in the name of God.

Americans are fascinated by stories like this, because they undermine our ability to otherize.  Recognizing that it is possible for a fresh-faced, popular American boy to grow up to be a terrorist forces us to realize that these religious extremists are people just like us.  Radical Muslims are not animals or aliens, they are human beings who care deeply about the consequences of their actions.

This shouldn’t come to us as a shock.  Good people are capable of bad things.  Those of us who are familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment know that circumstances can lead to behaviors that might seem totally out of character, or even utterly evil.  Having total control over another person’s fate is one way that our situation in life can overwhelm our sense of decency.  Being subject to the perverse yet sometimes subtle manipulation of religious fervor can also influence us to behave in startlingly destructive ways.

Omar’s motivation is dedication to Allah, who he believes commands him to act violently.  He did not arrive at his current worldview casually.  His story was full of twists and turns: he underwent a great deal of soul-searching, and examined a number of philosophical positions before settling on Jihad as his purpose.

He debated religion with his peers, and he won.  No one was able to convince him that he was wrong, and how could they?  What could a Christian society tell him to dissuade him from his path?  Christians agree that service to God is the ultimate good.  Christians agree that nonbelievers will be violently punished, whether in this life or the next.  Christians agree that God’s commands are written in a book that cannot be questioned.

When you are part of a society that believes these things, there is nothing to stop a thoughtful individual from taking these principles to their logical conclusion, which is what Omar has done.  His only crime is a desire for consistency in his religious beliefs.  An honest Christian who believes that the Bible is the word of God, and who is not willing to compromise in his or her faith would also have to be an extremist.  The (Christian) Bible is full of exhortations and promises to kill nonbelievers and adulterers.

guanshi.edyo@positivethought.org (Guanshi Edyo) Religion Mon, 01 Feb 2010 21:09:47 +0000
Haiti Survivors Blessed? http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/24-haiti-survivors-blessed http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/24-haiti-survivors-blessed Some Haiti survivors believe that they were chosen by God to survive the tragedy.  It's a common mistake.  Those who survive any treacherous circumstance feel lucky, even though someone has to survive.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Drumbeats called the faithful to a Sunday Mass praising God amid a scene resembling the Apocalypse - a collapsed cathedral in a city cloaked with the smell of death, where aid is slow to reach survivors and rescue crews battle to pry an ever-smaller number of the living from the ruins.

Sunlight streamed through what little was left of blown-out stained windows as the Rev. Eric Toussaint preached to a small crowd of survivors. A rotting body lay in its main entrance.

"Why give thanks to God? Because we are here," Toussaint said. "We say 'Thank you God.' What happened is the will of God. We are in the hands of God now."

In a huge disaster in an area densely packed with people, it is extremely likely that some people will be in the areas that happen to remain structurally sound.  They aren't blessed, they aren't lucky: someone had to be there, and it happened to be them.  The lucky ones who happen to be under a support that survives the tumble will be amazed at their incredible good fortune.

But when you are the one who experiences this “luck” it is overwhelmingly difficult separate one's subjective experience of the world from this objective analysis.  When a terribly tragedy befalls us, our instinct is to call foul believe an injustice has occurred.  Similarly, when we are fortunate beyond our wildest dreams, we must be “blessed.” My grandfather survived the holocaust by the barest of threads, and never understood that God need not have favored him in order for him to have experienced good fortune. Damage in downtown Port-au-PrinceMany died and many survived -- some just barely. His story happened to be one of the latter.

200,000 people may have died in Haiti.  But the capital, Port-au-Prince, where population was most dense in the earthquake's affected area, had a population over 700,000.  That means, yes, you were lucky if were among the survivors.  But you would be in the company of at least half a million other people.

If God had control over the entire situation, why would he callously exterminate the equivalent of a small city full of his children?  What father, however angry, could stomach such tragedy in his own family, let alone cause it?

guanshi.edyo@positivethought.org (Guanshi Edyo) Religion Sun, 17 Jan 2010 19:12:15 +0000
Benefits without boundaries? Social relationships and religion. http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/23-benefits-without-boundaries-social-relationships-and-religion http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/23-benefits-without-boundaries-social-relationships-and-religion Even though the Alliance for Positive Thought questions the existence of the supernatural, we believe that there are some aspects of religion which are useful and desirable to incorporate into everyday life. Possibly the biggest benefits of organized religion are the social relationships and community it creates for participants.

People who belong to a religious faith often attend a worship service where they meet like minded individuals and have the opportunity to make friends. They often feel as though they belong to a community that they can trust, and therefore they have a high level of social capital (the potential energy of social relationships). That is, they have people they can count on for advice on health, employment, relationships, and life events.

These feelings of community are partially generated by participants’ perceptions of shared beliefs and norms. Members of a congregation know that they share moral values and have a sense of right and wrong. Membership and belonging is often perpetuated by the religious leader, and reinforced through actions of the congregation.

However where there is inclusion and relationship building there is also a risk of exclusion and naming those who are different as the “other.” To a religious person, the “other” is someone who does not share their morals. The “other” is someone who they cannot trust. What do these perceptions of the unworthy “other” reveal about the social relationship benefits that religion brings to its participants? Must there always be a boundary between those who are included in a community and excluded? Is it possible to maximize the benefits of social relationships without generating exclusive boundaries?


rachel.krug@nyu.edu (Sudauze Tikejime) Religion Wed, 13 Jan 2010 22:15:33 +0000
Would you vote for an atheist for president? http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/22-would-you-vote-for-an-atheist-for-president http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/22-would-you-vote-for-an-atheist-for-president A 2007 Gallup poll revealed that only 45% of Americans said that they would be willing to vote for a qualified candidate who happened to be atheist. This compares to 55% who would be willing to vote for a candidate who happened to be homosexual, 57% who would vote for a candidate who happened to be over age 72, and 67% who would vote for a candidate who happened to be married for the third time.

When results are tabulated by political ideology, liberals are more likely to say they would vote for an atheist (67% say they would) compared to moderates (48%) and conservatives (29%).

Tabulating by educational level reveals that 52% of those who have attended some college would be willing to vote for an atheist, whereas only 32% who have not attended college would be willing to do so.

Would you vote for an atheist for president? Why or why not?

rachel.krug@nyu.edu (Sudauze Tikejime) Religion Wed, 13 Jan 2010 20:42:26 +0000
Atheist vs. Agnostic vs. Naturalist: A Problem of Terminology http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/20-the-problems-of-terminology http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/2-religion/20-the-problems-of-terminology When I see data on the religious self-identifications of Americans, I am always a bit skeptical of the percentage of people who actually claim to be atheist, as opposed to Christian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, etc. It always appears to me that the number is too low. This is of course just speculation on my part – random anonymous surveys are usually pretty accurate. I can’t help but think that atheist belief is underreported . The reason I think this is so is because of the connotations associated with the word “atheist”.

Disclaimer: the following scenario contains generalizations. You’ll probably be able to easily recognize them. I don’t mean to suggest that there are not exceptions, they are made merely to show a point.

Say some random person asks you about your religious beliefs and you tell them that you are a Christian, chances are you will not get any dirty looks as a result of your response. People are not surprised by that answer, and most will react with dismissive approval. Saying you are Christian indicates that you are “normal”. However, if you answer that you are an atheist, there is a good chance that you will be met with something other than total approval. People will be surprised that you are willing to admit it in the first place, and then whether or not they then proceed to openly confront you about it, many will think you are a bit abnormal.

According to dictionary.com, an atheist is, “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings”. That sounds a lot like the direct opposite of “a person who believes the existence of a supreme being”. There’s nothing else suggested by the definition of the word - certainly not that an atheist is abnormal, amoral, untrustworthy, unpatriotic, un-American, or malcontented. Why then are such negative connotations attached to the word? Probably because the opposite of an atheist, a person who does believe in the existence of a supreme being, will generally be thought to be normal, moral, trustworthy, patriotic, and content unless you specifically know otherwise. This is of course patently unfair in both cases – theists (can we start calling them that?) are not always wonderful people and neither are atheists usually bad people. The perceptions of the words being what they are though, I suspect there have got to be plenty of closet atheists out there who are just not comfortable with professing as much. Even the word agnostic leaves social wiggle room – you haven’t gone to the dark side, you are just not sure. I have been an atheist for a long time now, but it was only recently that I became comfortable to call myself that – I was claiming agnosticism to avoid social awkwardness.

emk27@cornell.edu (Einrett Ernie) Religion Fri, 08 Jan 2010 02:57:36 +0000
Scapegoat or Lame Duck? Religion and the Environment http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/3-environment/19-scapegoat-or-lame-duck-religion-and-the-environment http://positivethought.org/index.php/blog/3-environment/19-scapegoat-or-lame-duck-religion-and-the-environment In my last post, I talked about the first part of my conversation with environmentalist Bill Hartnett, in which we talked about the definition of religion.  The broader discussion was about how religious belief and environmentally friendly lifestyles interact.

earthBill thought I was saying that the reason people make poor choices about the environment is because they are religious devotees.  He told me that I should stop using religion as a “scapegoat.” But really what we are trying to propose here is that religion is a very positive institution in many ways.  It has the power to change minds and motivate behavior.  We would like to duplicate those effects, but redirect that motivation towards more positive goals.

There are quite a few religious people who are environmentalists.  The Bible in fact exhorts followers to care for the land and the animals.

"You shall not pollute the land in which you live.... You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites." (Numbers 35:33-34)

But there are also religionists who have personally told me things like “We don’t need to worry about pollution because the rapture is coming.”   These people may or may not be in the minority, but the fact is that some sects and adherents believe that caretakership of the Earth is essential to being a good Christian (or Muslim or Jew, etc.)  Some believe that it really doesn’t matter because God will provide in the end.

So deistic religion is not our scapegoat.  It’s a just a lame duck – it’s ineffectual at motivating followers because there is another alternative, namely salvation by faith, and/or God’s magical cleanup power.  The religious need not worry too much because no matter how much we pollute here on Terra Firma, heaven will always be clean.  If you believe you can get into the Big Club in the Sky without cleaning up Earth-side, why bother?

guanshi.edyo@positivethought.org (Guanshi Edyo) Environment Fri, 11 Dec 2009 23:40:17 +0000