Several Random Things

Speaking of the Hard Problem of Consciousness, there's going to be a new Tom Stoppard play about the "Hard Problem".   I'm so excited!

Hilary, a young psychology researcher at a brainscience institute, is nursing a private sorrow and a troubling question at work, where psychology and biology meet. If there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness? This is ‘the hard problem’ which puts Hilary at odds with her colleagues who include her first mentor Spike, her boss Leo and the billionaire founder of the institute, Jerry. Is the day coming when the computer and the fMRI scanner will answer all the questions psychology can ask? Meanwhile Hilary needs a miracle, and she is prepared to pray for one.

Tom Stoppard is the master of geeky, postmodern-in-the-best-sense intellectual theatre.   For purposes of the preceeding sentence please ignore (but only for the duration of this paragraph) the existence of Stephen Sondheim, who also fits the above description...

This interview with a convert from Hinduism to Eastern Orthodoxy (and the accompanying article) is by far the most useful and informative thing I've ever read about the vexed question of the extent to which Yoga is compatible with the Chirstian faith.

From the same program, a discussion of whether ancient Christians distinguished between insanity and demon possession.

On a similar note, the testimony of a Catholic Christian with a schizophrenia-like condition and how it relates to his faith.

Heartwrenching: The Spy who Loved Me.  It's difficult to know what is real and what is not in a relationship, when the person in question has been trained in dissociation to the point where he may not even know who he is himself.

A video about a man with cerebral palsy who makes paintings using a typewriter.  (The 2014 article is in the present tense, but actually Paul Smith died in 2007.)

Be My Eyes, an iPhone app that allows sighted people to help blind people from afar.

Science Falsely So Called: Fundamentalism and Science.  The evolution of the characteristically modern movement in Christianity called Fundamentalism, named after a publication called "The Fundamentals".  (While I do not share the Fundamentalist approach to interpreting Scripture or Nature, it seems unnecessarily insulting to them to use the same term to describe fanatics in other religions, that like to blow people up.)

Wonder and the Ends of Inquiry.  The surprisingly ambivalent relationship between wonder and scientific inquiry.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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4 Responses to Several Random Things

  1. mia neuenhoff says:

    Thank you for the link. I thought the article by Christine Hangala was fantastic and on point. Whatever your religious bent, yoga will take you deeper. Those not grounded in the Word can and will be swayed. Therefore, they should keep it at the physical. I have gone deeper in my spiritual life WITH CHRIST through yoga. I teach yoga with Scripture and prayer. But, I am keenly aware of the pitfalls.

  2. TY says:

    Rather interesting reading about what the mind or head is capable of doing. Clearly the effects of these various meditations are proof that there is more to material existence, or naturalism.
    The yoga articles led me to ask: How different is “pure consciousness” from uttering mantras (see Yoga and the Christine faith – Dr Christine Mangala Frost) from the “unconscious” state of certain Evangelical Christians speaking glossolalia, feinting, and losing their balance. I’ve see this myself and, coming from an Anglican/ Episcopal background where the liturgy appeals more to the intellect than to emotions, I do marvel at how these believers attain that that high “octane” state.
    What is your view Dr Wall?
    Thank you.

  3. Aron Wall says:

    Dear mia,
    Thanks for your comment. The Church needs more spiritually discerning people like you, who are able to discriminate between the wholesome and unwholesome aspects of spiritual practices that originate outside of the Church. People who neither reflexively accept nor reject foreign things, but instead are humble and careful, who take every thought captive to Christ and bring the treasures of all the nations into the New Jerusalem. May your spiritual gift be a thorn in the side of Satan, who would like to use yoga to hurt and destroy naive people. But God will give you the victory.

    In many parts of the world even the Anglicans engage in such charismatic practices!

    There are two types of glossolalia (tongues). One is where the Spirit of God enables a person to speak a language that they never learned, as in Acts chapter 2. This is a rare but potent miracle, reported by some missionaries today. It has an obvious use in spreading the Gospel, and it is a sign that the New Jerusalem transcends distinctions of language and culture.

    The second (but related) kind is where a person speaks nonsense syllables which nobody understands, although perhaps with some emotional or spiritual content which could be "translated" into words by the person or by somebody else. My own opinion is that this is a legitimate (but minor) spiritual gift which St. Paul speaks about in 1 Cor 12-14. (Of course it can also be a sign of demonic spiritual activity, but not in those who are governed by the Spirit of God in their other activities.) The fact that overly-intellectual people like you and me may have little use for it does not mean we should be bigoted towards those who benefit from it. It is a reminder of a spiritual truth applicable to all of us, that it is the Spirit who helps us pray in our weaknesses, and that spiritual things are discerned with the spirit, not with the mind alone. It is also a reminder that Modern Academic Westerners aren't the only type of people Christ came to save.

    St. Paul quite clearly says that the practice has some value, but that it is less important than words which can be understood, that not everyone has this gift, and that those who do have it should be considerate and not disrupt church services. So naturally Christians are now divided into the group that thinks that the gift is mandatory for all sanctified persons, and the group that thinks it is of no value at all. These divisions show that we are still carnal minded, like the early Corthinians. However, those people I have personally known who spoke in tongues did it either privately or (when in church) sub voce.

    It's the same with having a fit and falling over in a trace. If it is done out of genuine love for Jesus and the saints, and is in the control of the spirit of the person, then it is valid. If it is done to put attention on oneself, it is all wrong. Love is the test for whether a spiritual gift is proper. Drama has no bearing either way.

    PS Although I do think that the human spirit can be in contact with the spiritual world, I don't think that entering ecstactic states really disproves Naturalism, since they could always maintain it is a fluke of brain functioning, induced by going outside the operating parameters of the human machine.

    As for whether the mental states induced by yoga & mantras versus glossolalia are similar or not, I think you'd be better off asking somebody who has experienced both states. But I know that the true goal of Christian mysticism is always to fill the mind with Christ, not to empty it into an enlightened state, or to experience odd psychological phenomena.

  4. TY says:

    Good reply and I always learn something new.
    Just so your readers and my fellow saints don't get the impression I was being dismissive of the charismatic experience in certain Christian services, I'm with you when you say: “ It is a reminder of a spiritual truth applicable to all of us, that it is the Spirit who helps us pray in our weaknesses, and that spiritual things are discerned with the spirit, not with the mind alone. It is also a reminder that Modern Academic Westerners aren't the only type of people Christ came to save.”

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