Several years ago, I had a very strange dinner with Paul Nelson, who tried to convince me that my materialist view of biology was totally wrong and was missing all the important stuff. To do that, he performed a little demonstration for me. He flexed his arm at me.
“Look at that,” he said, “My mind is doing that.” He didn’t give me a nice spooky “woOOOoooo”, but he should have — it would have been perfectly appropriate. I don’t think he was on drugs, either.
But I’ve seen this phenomenon many times. Take some woo-inclined individual, put their brain to work on some incompletely understood process, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that they’ll come back to you utterly convinced that mundane physical events are ultimately confirming evidence for whatever metaphysical nonsense is poisonously wafting about in their heads. And now we have a wonderful example of this kind of sloppy stupid bullshit right here on freethoughtblogs.
I have no idea why Daniel Fincke is indulging this Eric Steinhart character, but he’s had a number of guest posts lately that are raving mad rationalizations for ‘spirituality’, whatever the hell that is. Here’s an example.
Spiritual exercises typically involve mental preparation for performance through visualization or emotional preparation for performance through arousal regulation. Visualization involves working with mental imagery while arousal regulation involves conscious control of physiological and emotional arousal (it involves neocortical control of the limbic system and autonomic nervous system).
Of course these are real phenomena. Like Paul Nelson bending his arm, you can consciously control many aspects of your mental state (but not all; ask anyone in the throes of depression — you can’t just will yourself out of everything), and there are behaviors and ways of thinking that you can do to shift the way your brain is working.
But that paragraph above is a perfect example of bullshitting to justify crap. Notice the scientific justification of “neocortical control of the limbic system and autonomic nervous system” — sure, that’s the core of your brain that is involved in arousal, and we know that from scientific experiments and observations. But look what he does: he calls these spiritual exercises.
They are not. They are physiological exercises. They do not manipulate “spirit”, they change the physical state of the brain. But these glib pseudoscientific quacks just love to borrow the language of science and slap the label of “spiritual” or “Wiccan” or “transcendental meditation” or “Buddhist” onto them. It’s intellectual theft, plain and simple: it’s woo-meisters doing their damnedest to appropriate natural phenomena to their cause. It’s the same thing as when Pat Robertson ascribes a natural disaster to the wrath of a divine being — he’s pointing to reality and claiming it for the kingdom of irrational supernaturalism.
I can do the same thing. Next time you encounter one of these kooks, I want you to stop and contemplate what they are doing. I want you to fan the rage, that is, channel your inner being to stimulate your amygdala. Feel the anger grow. Concentrate on your arm; make it rise. Flex the elbow (Amazing! How are you doing that?) and then…reach out and slap ‘em upside the head.
If they complain, just tell them you were practicing your Myersian spiritual exercises. I think I’m going to have to start a whole school teaching these skills, so I can get paid for it.