Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Inadequate Myths

I was really struck by this passage in Sagan's The Varieties of Scientific Experience, and it reminded me of the story I've linked to below the quote.

We kill each other, or threaten to kill each other, in part, I think, because we are afraid we might not ourselves know the truth, that someone else with a different doctrine might have a closer approximation to the truth. Our history is in part a battle to the death of inadequate myths. If I can’t convince you, I must kill you. That will change your mind. You are a threat to my version of the truth, especially the truth about who I am and what my nature is. The thought that I may have dedicated my life to a lie, that I might have accepted a conventional wisdom that no longer, if it ever did, corresponds to the external reality, that is a very painful realization. I will tend to resist it to the last. I will go to almost any lengths to prevent myself from seeing that the worldview that I have dedicated my life to is inadequate. I’m putting this in personal terms so that I don’t say “you,” so that I’m not accusing anyone of an attitude, but you understand that this is not a mea culpa; I’m trying to describe a psychological dynamic that I think exists, and it’s important and worrisome.
Here's the opening two paragraphs from an article about a "weeping" statue of Jesus in Mumbai, which, upon close examination, was simply a plumbing leak.  The reaction to the truth is telling.

When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the holy water and the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage. 
So when Sanal Edamaruku arrived and established that this was not holy water so much as holey plumbing, the backlash was severe. The renowned rationalist was accused of blasphemy, charged with offences that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland.  (Here's the full story.)
The thought of global nuclear weaponry in the hands of apocalyptic religious fanatics—no less fueled by eschatological fantasies—is truly frightening.  Sagan makes it all too real for comfort. 

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