Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hmmm ... very interesting ...

Neurological scientists in America have published research that seems to confirm that so-called Near Death Experiences (NDE) have a biological basis after all, and in fact are related to the human ability to dream. While it's going to be massively unreasonable to expect that the motley collection of dingbats and fruitcakes who tout NDEs as "proof" of life after death to take this on board, this is the nearest thing we have to date to hard scientific proof that NDEs are an absolutely fascinating but ultimately solidly human, this-worldly phenomenon of the human brain, worthy of further investigation.
The study, in Neurology, compared 55 people who had had near death experiences and 55 who had not. Those with near death experiences were more likely to have less clearly separated boundaries between sleeping and waking, the scientists found.
People who have had near death experiences commonly report being surrounded by a bright light or gazing down on themselves in an operating theatre. Many of these sensations are also common to experiences of being in the dream state, or rapid eye movement (REM), stage of sleep, the researchers said.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Amen. Or something like that.

The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.

... Nontheism is finally realizing that there’s no baby sitter that you can count on. You just get a good one and then he or she is gone. Nontheism is realizing that it’s not just babysitters that come and go. The whole of life is like that. This is the truth, and the truth is inconvenient.

For those who want something to hold on to, life is even more inconvenient. From this point of view, theism is an addiction. We’re all addicted to hope — hope that the doubt and mystery will go away. This addiction has a painful effect on society: a society based on lots of people addicted to getting ground under their feet is not a very compassionate place.

Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Friday, April 07, 2006

Thank ... er ... goodness for Sam Harris

From the redoutable Truthdig:
Religious moderation is a relaxation of the standards of adherence to ancient taboos and superstitions. That’s really all it is. Moderate Christians have agreed not to read the bible literally, and not read certain sections of it at all, and then they come away with a much more progressive, tolerant and ecumenical version of Christianity. They just pay attention to Jesus when he’s sermonizing on the Mount, and claim that is the true Christianity. Well that’s not the true Christianity. It’s a selective reading of certain aspects of Christianity. The other face of Christianity is always waiting in the book to be resurrected. You can find the Jesus of Second Thessalonians who’s going to come back and hurl sinners into the pit. This is the Jesus being celebrated in the Left Behind novels. This is the Jesus that half the American population is expecting to see come down out of the clouds.
And if anyone is still unaware, Sam's The End of Faith is an absolute must-read.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Bravo

Sometimes you find the best sites by accident, as was the case just now with the remarkably well-put-together Naturalism.org Three cheers, a pat on the back and a beverage of choice to all concerned.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sheer brilliance

I'm all for the brotherhood and we-guys-should-stick-together and all that, but I admit, we men can be so, well, obvious at times.

I've said it before ...

... and I'm going to say it again. As a sometime semi-hemi-demi-professional writer, there are some pieces of writing that are so beautifully couched and, above all, so right that I almost - only almost, mind - feel like chucking in the sponge. Pieces of writing like this, for instance.

A treat for astronomy dweebs everywhere

Monday, March 20, 2006

Priceless

Two Irishmen were sitting in a pub having a beer watching the brothel across the street.
They saw a Baptist Minister walk into the brothel, and one of them said "Aye, 'tis a shame to see a man of the cloth goin' to the bad."
They saw a Rabbi enter the brothel, and the other Irishman said "Aye, 'tis a pity to see the Jews are fallin' victim to temptation, so it is."

Then a Muslim cleric entered the brothel, and one said "Aye, there must be some very young girls in there."
Then they saw a Catholic Priest enter the brothel, and one of the Irishmen said "What a shame ... one of them girls must be quite ill."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Gratuitous Offence Day 2006

One of the major stories in the news this week concerns six young men who volunteered to take part in the clinical trial of a new drug, suffered an extremely severe adverse reaction and within minutes became desperately ill. As far as I know the story broke yesterday. (Also here).

The story, in brief, is this:


The drug company Parexel have been testing a new anti-inflamatory drug which might be useful in the treatment of some forms of arthritis and leukaemia. The Phase I clinical trials were being carried out at the Northwick Park Hospital in North London. Eight volunteers were paid £2,000 to take part in the trial, but only six were given the real drug: the other two were given a harmless placebo. Apparently within minutes of receiving the drug, all six who had taken it were taken violently and disastrously ill with multiple organ failure, massive facial swelling and a host of other symptoms. At time of writing, of the six, four are seriously ill but relatively stable, two are critically ill. That the trials were in Phase I means that the drug would have already been tested on animals, presumably without any danger signs whatsoever, although there are dark rumours flying around that the drug had killed some of the animals If this - so far unconfirmed and uncorroborated - story is true, and if the description of those critically ill humans in hospital are anything to go by, the murder of such animals would have been vile indeed ... though not, needless to say, nearly so vile as those responsible.

Spud's view? Hard cheese.

Harsh? Callous? Heartless? Yep. Having a view of humanity that rarely rises above irritation and usually hovers somewhere between contempt and loathing, you'll have to excuse me if my sympathy tanks run dry on this one.

To believe that these individuals took part in these trials as a sort of noble sacrifice for the advancement of medical science and the betterment of humankind is so naive that I can't seriously believe that anybody thinks it could possibly be true. They did it because they were broke and were being paid substantial sums of money to be guinea pigs. There's nothing wrong with this. Most of us could do with a bit of spare cash; we all have to eat. Two thousand pounds might be loose change to some, but it would come in very handy for me right now and, I suspect, for you too. But let's call it like it is, and stop being so fucking sentimental about the six who remain critically ill. They're not heroes. They took a gamble, they rolled the dice, and they lost. They did it for the money - again, nothing wrong with that -, they were informed of the potential side effects, signed the consent forms, and events went against them. That's the way the cookie etc etc. If they survive, I doubt they'll go for it again, for sure.

These characters had a choice. I'll spare my sympathies for those who deserve it: the hundreds of thousands of animals in this country alone - billions worldwide - who aren't given the option to say 'no, thanks, I'd really rather not.'