Monday, March 20, 2006

Humanist Spirituality: Oxymoron or Authentic Path to Enlightenment?

Yesterday (March 19) I gave a talk on this topic to the Humanist Society of Massachusetts at the Phillips Brooks House at Harvard University. The text seems a bit long for this format (around 6,000 words -- 12 pages printed), so instead I offer this link to the PDF file.

In the talk, I reject the idea that Humanism leaves no room for spirituality, and offer Stoicism as the basis for an authentically Humanist spiritual vocabulary and practice. Along the way, I explode a number of myths: that quantum mechanics is mystical, that the spiritual East stands in opposition to the rational West, that you can’t state a simple criterion for separating good spirituality from bad spirituality, and that Stoicism is necessarily cold.

I invite you all to read the talk and leave comments below.


Shawn Anthony said...

Excellent! I look forward to reading this ... asap. Thank you.

Jim Farmelant said...

The myth that quantum mechanics is mystical has been around almost as long as quantum mechanics itself, since the original perpretators of that myth included some of the founding fathers of QM like Wolfgang Pauli who was a friend and patient of Carl Jung, and who claimed to find support for Jung's qausi-mysticism in QM.

Some of the best criticisms of mystical interpretations of QM were written by people like Philipp Frank in his *Modern Science and Its Philosophy* and his *Philosophy of Science*, and Susan Stebbing's *Philosophy and the Physicists*.

Anyway, concerning the subject matter of the Humanist Spirituality talk, I am surprised that one of the biggest stumbling blocks that humanists and naturalists have with spirituality wasn't addressed, which is the very word itself. Over the past 2500 years, the term "spirituality" has acquired conotations associated with a dualist metaphysics. That is a metaphysics which divides the world into two realms: a material realm versus a spiritual realm, a supernatural realm verusus the natural realm. Since most humanists are naturalists, they therefore reject this sort of dualist metaphysics, and since most people, including both religious believers and religious skeptics, have come to associate the very idea of spirituality with such a dualist metaphysics, it doesn't seem too surprising to me that a lot humanists find the notion of spirituality, even a humanist spirituality, a bit alien to them.

Anonymous said...

Doug, for some reason I can't get the pdf to open despite having the latest version of Adobe. Can you e-mail it to me ( as a Word doc?
Thanks, Joe Conover

Anonymous said...

Neurolinguistic Programming

In the early 1970s in America Richard Bandler, then a young college student studied the work of Fritz Perls and later Virginia Satir and found that he could reproduce their high-level therapy skills to a degree that even surprised him. Bandler seemed to have a natural ability to mimic (model) the language patterns by Virginia and Fritz.

At the University of California at Santa Cruz, Bandler who was well versed in the teachings of patterns in mathematics and computers teamed up with a college professor, John Grinder to help him understand the processes that were at work. Soon Bandler and Grinder, who used what he knew about patterns in linguistics, created a new model for personal growth called NeuroLinguistic Programming.

Bandler and Grinder had set out to model the hypnotic skills of Milton Erickson. They had astounding results. They built a communication model about human "thinking" and "processing" and used that model of how we see images, hear sounds, reproduces smells and tactile experiences in our mind to track and model the structure of subjective experiences.

Sounds very complicated but really it works very simply. Here is an example as used by Paul McKenna - probably the best & most successful hypnotist in the world.

Close your eyes and think of a negative memory. Become involved in the situation as best as you can. Feel the emotions that you felt, see the things you saw and hear the things you heard.

Now take that memory and project it onto a mental screen seeing yourself in the picture. Put a frame around the picture and view it as if it is an old photograph. Next drain all the colour from the picture and shrink the screen to the size of a matchbox.

Have the feelings associated with the picture decreased in any way?

Another good example of NLP involves Anchors. Have you ever smelt a certain perfume or aftershave and had it remind you of a certain person or situation? Gone to a certain place that brings feelings long forgotten flooding back? Or been in any situation that creates emotional responses that would not normally be associated with it? Well if you can answer yes to any of these then you have experienced anchors. Some anchors are associated with positive feelings and some with negative emotions. However, you should be aware that anchors can be consciously installed or already existing ones altered. Here is an example:

Think of a time when you were really happy. If you can't think of one then imagine something that would make you feel really happy. See what you would see, hear what you would hear and feel what you would feel. Really get into the picture and try to experience it as though it were happening now.

Now brighten the colours and make them richer. Increase the volume. Make the picture bigger, brighter, louder. That's it and more and more....

Now press your first finger against your thumb and fully experience your happy feelings. Do this everyday for 2 weeks and you will create an anchor that will instantly recreate these feelings. Whenever you want to feel like that again just press your thumb and first finger together and wham the feelings will come flooding back! Don't believe me? Just try it and see!!! self hypnosis

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garnet david said...

Hey, I just found your blog through a search for spiritual humanism. I look forward to reading your lecture, which I know I will probably quote on my blog. I've been blogging for a 18 months and have decided to focus toward spiritual humanism, partly because that's what I would call my "beliefs" and partly to boost a much needed direction in spiritual attitudes in the US and the world.

Glad I found you.

garnet david said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bluemount said...

I read your talk from the PDF. It is very lucid and convincing. This is my first exposure to 'The Hellenistic Schools' and I found them very interesting. Interestingly I found that they are deeply connected with the thoughts articulated in he Bhagavad Geeta & the Upanishads ( ancient Hindu philosophical texts couched in mythological language . I have been looking for a way to understand what they say,meaning what eastern philosophy says,and to relate them to the context of today's world and thoughts. Your talk brings it all together in an easy succinct manner and makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,
This has nothing at all to do with your article, I believe you are married to my cousin Deb and I just wanted to say hello and wish you both well,

Diogenes said...

Hi Doug - The PDF link doesn't work anymore