Is there a god? Extract from my talk with Hindu Swami Purnananda at UCD Philosophy Society

by Michael Nugent on October 23, 2014

This is an extract from my discussion with Hindu Swami Purnananda at University College Dublin Philosophy Society.

Swami Purnananda is also a member of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum. This was my first time publicly discussing god with a Hindu.

Apologies for poor image quality. Full discussion online later.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 tina October 23, 2014 at 11:18 pm

He’s peddling deepities worthy of Chopra.

2 Paul October 24, 2014 at 8:21 am

It never ceases to surprise me when otherwise intelligent people can talk nonsense like this.

3 Carrie October 24, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Oh my goodness, count the deepities! Well done, Michael — I look forward to seeing the full discussion.

4 Jeff Rankin October 24, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Can’t you see?!? If something is moving relative to something else…god…or something. It’s so simple!

5 paul hamilton October 24, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Not surprising since Chopra is a hindu. I am impressed with this guy’s philosophy

6 Aneris ✻ October 25, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Swami Purnananda is a very good example of someone who has a strong “reality tunnel” (Robert A. Wilson) or thinks in strong narratives, or strong “platonicity” (Nassim N. Taleb) , which are superimposed onto the world he sees, and then whatever data gets close enough gets idealized towards the structures and narratives he sees. Everything else gets ignored.

For example, he makes a point about how the eyes move but as you go inward into the skull or mind — it is unclear where he is — he claims the movement settles and comes to a rest. If that were true, you could still wonder: “so what?” However, it is only true in a stongly idealized way. The head moves slower than the eye balls, which really jump around rapidly in what is called saccades and scan the environment to update a visual scene memory.

Our mind is anything but unmoving. Memory already appears to play a larger role in vision than previously thought. We seem to remember how structures look like from previous instances which gets factored in to make something appear sharper than we momentarily perceive.

Neurons fire intricate patterns that wash in cascades through the networks. The brain moves about as much as as the head does. Swami Purnananda idea of “movement” is already heavily platonic, since once you got to molecular level, the soup is buzzing of movement.

The mind of a trained Buddhist (or Hindu) might appear empty to her, and detached from the world, but that is neither a rule of how minds are, nor is it literally empty and thoughtless. More plausible is the society of mind, a parliament of daemons that are arranged in some hierarchical structutures and that compute tasks each on their own and trigger each other, where the “upper echolons” — figuratively of course — seem produce the sensation of self-awareness.

Michael Nugent says: “Religious faith seems to me to be … – it’s not just that you believe things dispoportional to the available evidence, it’s you believe in things because you want to believe. And it’s nicer to believe that its conciousness and bliss than its conciousness and hatred.”

I understand it is necessarily simplified, but perhaps just a little too much. We are only aware of some part of our minds with an unknown part that we aren’t really concious of – the subconcious.

The realm of the supernatural, in my private view, is a place in the mind where opinions of the society where one lives; feelings; fears; wishes; hopes; simulations of other people’s minds, etcetera and unknown “subconcious” thoughts linger. We must have daemons that compute “what is right” or “what generic members of society expect us to do” or perhaps its arranged per associative categories (people in situation X do Y, and Z happens next, and Z is a good outcome).

When we are presented with some stimulus, or have a thought (we are aware of), it could ripple this subconcious “supernatural” twilight realm and it then plays back an answer that seemingly comes out of nowhere but “knows” – some other corner of the parliament of mind is speaking up.

Religious traditions seem to place more importance on the society (and the authorities who disproportionally shape it) and how it informs deeper values. “Gods will” might be an abstraction that is largely informed by the “will of the community. In other traditions, such as tarot, palm reading and divination, stimuli and subconcious together inform what the “supernatural” has to reveal, too. For example, I present you with a picture that has multiple meanings like a tarot card. Tarot cards are like narrative units where each allows for many interpretations, but their meaning isn’t arbitrary. The practioner can take up these narrative units, and her mind will find a narrative path which meanders between “what the cards say” and their feelings towards what they see and what it evokes, which can be largely subconcious (and thus informed by “culture”). Of course the arts in general work with associative games, but such supernatural tradtions branched off long before there was art and made it their own thing.

Swami Purnananda seems like a very nice person, however it is not without comedy how he goes along and seems to make up stuff as he goes along and Michael Nugent takes it straight and replies with “that doesn’t make sense, you say this and that” and Mr Purnananda just replies “exactly… this is because…” and just goes on with the next idea. In some sense I find this charming. Religionists often have this going for them that they can “play along” and appear curious and have their ideas carry them, whereas atheists and skeptics unfortunately generally come across as harsh and “fun ruining”. Don’t get me wrong, Michael Nugent does fine, and I like stridency very much, I just come to think that in some settings it may not reach religious people as effectively even if they doubt. They like storytelling and it is very difficult to get them onto a mindset that cares about what corresponds best with empirical evidence.

We play sometimes “Bullshit Dialogue”, an evolved version of Ze Frank’s “Bullshit Tour” and this dialogu reminded me a bit of that. You basically invent some idea and present it as fact, the other person must go along with it and bullshit it further — a bit like a dialogue with the Spinal Tap. You must answer with “yeah, exactly and because of that…”.

7 Jan Steen October 25, 2014 at 2:28 pm

The guy starts with a nonsensical assumption (only something that is unchanging and unmoving can observe something that is changing and moving) and it only gets worse from there.

I don’t think you can say that people like this are mentally ill, but there is definitely something wrong with them. In the way that psychopaths lack the ability to empathize, these religious types lack the ability for scepticism. This allows their credulousness to grow unchecked, so that after a while they start to believe the most astonishing nonsense. What’s frightening is that they are even able to rationalize it, by upholding one crazy notion with another, and this with yet another, in one big tangle of self-referencing idiocy. Most will never get out of it.

It’s hard to debate such people. You have to keep asking, “How do you know that?” Don’t grant them any of their assumptions, not even for the sake of argument. Stay out of their rabbit hole.

8 Michael Nugent October 26, 2014 at 9:46 am

It was a strange discussion for me. It was the first time I had publicly discussed god with a Hindu, and I wasn’t aware of what interpretations he would put on what I had read about Hinduism, so I was asking more questions than usual just to find out where he was coming from.

The full discussion is now online here:

http://www.michaelnugent.com/2014/10/26/is-there-a-god-my-talk-with-hindu-swami-purnananda-at-ucd-philosophy-society/

9 Jan Steen October 26, 2014 at 10:23 am

@Michael Nugent,

I was asking more questions than usual just to find out where he was coming from.

I bet you still haven’t found out.

10 Michael Nugent October 27, 2014 at 1:40 am

Aneris, I agree that my position on faith reflecting what you want to believe is far too simplified.

To put it in secular terms, the distinction I was hoping to point at is that we night say that we have faith that our missing pet will eventually come home, but we wouldn’t say that we have faith that they will die before they have the opportunity to.

In other words, however our beliefs are generated, and whether or not we have control over that process, we typically attach the word faith to desirable outcomes rather than to undesirable outcomes.

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