Thursday, August 27, 2015

“So Help Me God”: A George Washington Myth that Should Be Discarded

from One of the most widely held myths about George Washington is that immediately after he took the prescribed oath to become the nation’s first President, he solemnly added the words, “So help me God” and thus began a tradition that has been followed ever since.  Unfortunately, this myth, accepted by such fine historians as David McCullough and Kenneth C. Davis, is given further credence in a video released by The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies maintained by the Senate Rules Committee. Entitled 'So Help Me God,' it shows president after president uttering the words and authoritatively declares that George Washington first used the phrase. In fact, an examination of the historical evidence demonstrates that such a claim is almost certainly false.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Disco and the End of Atheism

from Atheism seems to be on the rise. A number of young people are taking to it like they did to disco in the 1970s. But alas, like all trends, it met its end on Disco Demolition Night July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois, where a crate filled with records was blown up on the field. It took young people less than a decade to find out how silly they looked. Remnants of the disco sound were still popular for a time, for example, Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” (1988). If you’ve ever been Rickrolled, you’ll know the song. Disco could never have happened if it didn’t have other music styles from which to borrow. That the case with all musical trends and everything else. Some scientists are claiming that the world’s largest atom smasher—the 17 mile-long particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland— has found the “God Particle,” something that has eluded scientists even though they “knew” it existed. Like the so-called God Particle, Dark Matter, another Holy Grail of science, needs a source. Where did these building blocks of the cosmos originate? The same is true for morality and reason. What is their origin? What makes reason reasonable and morality moral?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

John Frum and the Cargo Cults

from Every year on February 15th, natives of Tanna Island in the Republic of Vanuatu hold a grand celebration in honor of an imaginary man named John Frum. Villagers clothe themselves in homemade US Army britches, paint “USA” on their bare chests and backs, and run a replica of Old Glory up the flagpole alongside the Marine Corps Emblem and the state flag of Georgia. Barefoot soldiers then march in perfect step in the shadow of Yasur, the island’s active volcano, with red-tipped bamboo “rifles” slung over their shoulders. February 15th is known as John Frum day on Tanna Island, and these activities are the islanders’ holiest religious service.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Temple Medicine, Oracles and the Making of Modernity

from Among the key figures in the hidden history of the human sciences are the Munich philosopher Carl du Prel (1839-1899) and the Cambridge classicist and psychologist Frederic W. H. Myers (1843-1901). Eclipsed by psychoanalysis, Jungian analytical psychology and other depth psychologies throughout the twentieth century, the contemporary significance and reception of these writers was considerable.

Frustrated with the narrow focus of German experimental psychology on the physiology of perception in the everyday waking self, Carl du Prel formulated a radical research programme for the study of altered states of consciousness and was arguably the most popular German-language theorist of the unconscious mind immediately preceding Freud. Revered by artists such as Rilke and Kandinsky, he was read by psychologists like William James, Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud, who utilised du Prel’s studies of dreams and referred to him as “that brilliant mystic”.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Transhumanism — The Final Religion?

from Transhumanism and its associated philosophies can be divisive. To be sure, the movement has some negative stereotypes attached to it. But nonetheless, it’s gaining traction in mainstream discourse.

Over at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology, Dirk Bruere, explores transhumanism’s relationship to religion: After several decades of relative obscurity Transhumanism as a philosophical and technological movement has finally begun to break out of its strange intellectual ghetto and make small inroads into the wider public consciousness. This is partly because some high profile people have either adopted it as their worldview or alternatively warned against its potential dangers. Indeed, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama named it “The world’s most dangerous idea” in a 2004 article in the US magazine Foreign Policy, and Transhumanism’s most outspoken publicist, Ray Kurzweil, was recently made director of engineering at Google, presumably to hasten Transhumanism’s goals.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Can Moral Disputes Be Resolved?

from Moral disputes seem intractable — more intractable than other disputes. Take an example of a moral position that most of us would consider obvious: Honor killing is wrong. But honor killing has its supporters. Anyone who suggests that we can compromise with its supporters on the matter misunderstands the nature of this type of disagreement. It’s absolute. One party has to be right. Us. So why can’t we convince those who hold the opposite view?

With some exceptions, political disputes are not like this. When people disagree about politics, they often agree about ends, but disagree about means to attain them. Republicans and Democrats may differ on, say, health care policy, but share goals — a healthy American population. They differ on fiscal policy but agree on the goal of economic growth for the nation. Of course, this is often a matter of degree. Political disputes can have moral aspects, too. The two sides in the debate over abortion rights, for instance, clearly don’t agree on the ends. There is an ethical disagreement at the heart of this debate. It is safe to say that the more ethical a political dispute is, the more heated and intractable it is likely to become.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How Rock and Roll Found Satan -- And Why That Was a Good Thing

from io9.comPeter Bebergal's Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll is a must-read for anyone who prefers their music loud, riff-driven, and loaded with lyrics about Satan, wizards, and mystical quests.

Bebergal, an academic by day (he studied at Harvard's Divinity School) and metal head by both day and night, is also the author of memoir Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood. His writing style is both scholarly and entertainingly readable, and though Season of the Witch is a relatively slim volume, it packs a remarkable amount of analysis and music history (plus: esoteric fun facts) onto every page. I caught up with him recently for a chat about the allure of music's dark side.
io9: Not to start off completely superficially, but Season of the Witch has one of the coolest covers I've seen.

Peter Bebergal: I was actually hoping for that reaction. Having that artist [Arik Roper] was a dream come true — it looks like a 1970s black light poster. It also really also captures the spirit of the book in a way. I really do think there's something valuable to say about how rock 'n' roll history was impacted by these ideas and these images, but I hope it also comes across that the book is also about my love affair with this music, with these images, and with these stories, particularly as they rose up in the late 1960s and '70s.
Read the full article here.