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    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2010
    It is interesting to me that, without a clear cut definition of "spiritual" (which I'm certainly not asking that we hash out), we appear to be seeing a general opinion that an atheist can in fact be spiritual.

    It is my wont to take the devil's advocate position when people all agree without providing concrete reasoning, but I'm not sure how I could do so in this case. We see that, based on our received definitions of "spiritual", we all agree that it doesn't require any gods. Beyond that, what can we argue? And yet we feel the need to discuss it. I feel the need to discuss it. The question is, how?
    • CommentAuthorJiveKitty
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2010
    Hash out what spiritual means. See if the definition/s is/are congruent with observed reality.
  1.  (8121.183)
    Damn, beat me to it JiveKitty.

    Best I can manage is to look at it etymologically which tells us that it's well... someone who breathes. In greek we have the concept of pneuma, which pertains to breath and in jewish rauch which means... breath.

    So spiritual means to breathe? Or ful of hot air perhaps?
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeMay 1st 2010
    Wikipedia has an article defining Catholic spirituality as "the spiritual practice of living out a personal act of faith (fides qua creditur) following the acceptance of faith (fides quae creditur)".

    The word "spirit" seems to me to refer to a person's life or soul (hence its connection with breathing); c.f. Jesus saying, "Into your hands Oh Lord I commend my spirit."

    Some people have ascribed analogous 'spiritual' characteristics to non-human entities (spirits): sprites, wood dryads and spring nymphs, guardian angels, etc.

    Given the etymology it's easy to see how "spirit" is connected with "being alive". It's also IMO connected with "thought" (e.g. the spirit, not the letter, of the law; or e.g. a "spirited conversation"; or the French word "esprit", which means among other things "intellectual aptitude").

    Being motivated by a care for other people's feelings is a form of sprituality, IMO.
    • CommentTimeMay 1st 2010
    There is an interesting series of vids on Youtube, of Richard Dawkins interviewing Father George Coyne primarily about evolution, but the discussion gets much wider than this, and examines a few of the subjects in discussion in this thread.

    Here is the first one: Father George Coyne Interview with Richard Dawkins (1/7).
  2.  (8121.186)
    @ NeilFord - EGAD! Thank you.
    • CommentAuthorVerissimus
    • CommentTimeMay 1st 2010 edited
    "Spiritual" to me means "concerning the deepest values by which I lead my life." (I stole that phrase from wikipedia yes, but it describes my feelings pretty accurately.) The meaning of life.

    It's nothing supernatural, it's just moments of coming face to face with one's own nature, and one's interrelatedness with the world.

    edit: Thanks for the Dawkins video. I like the Dawk. He can be blunt, but so what. He's more entitled to be blunt than most people.

    Father Coyne seems like a nice man too, but it's a bit of the "good cop bad cop" routine the Catholic Church seems to be excelling at: don't worry about mean papa Ratzi there, there's plenty of nice people in the Church too!
    • CommentTimeMay 1st 2010
    "Spiritual" to me means "concerning the deepest values by which I lead my life." (I stole that phrase from wikipedia yes, but it describes my feelings pretty accurately.) The meaning of life.

    I find that definition inadequate, I think, because it's far too general, and also because under it everyone is necessarily spiritual. Every person has some deepest values, however shallow they be, and yet plenty of people describe themselves quite accurately as being non-spiritual. (I believe the above referenced Dr. Dawkins falls into this category.)

    It's nothing supernatural, it's just moments of coming face to face with one's own nature, and one's interrelatedness with the world.

    I think this comes closer to the heart of it. I particularly like the description of spirituality as consisting of "moments", as it doesn't seem to be a continuous state (hardly anybody is spiritual on the toilet), nor does it necessarily consist of specific volitional action. So a spiritual person is a person who experiences moments characterized by the immediacy of some fundamental aspect of their world or themselves.

    I think this is a good start. More perspectives may refine it. Another question I am interested in, though, is whether and how this is valuable. Are these moments intrinsically pleasurable? Do they affect behavior in a positive way? Why is it widely considered worthwhile to be "spiritual"?
  3.  (8121.189)
    In terms of the definition of "spiritual", I've always found that everyone I talk to/hear uses it in a different manner. The only constants I can extract from people's everyday use are "deep", "underlying" and "meaningful".

    I'll say straight up that I'm a materialist, so I don't believe in a soul, or in anything immaterial. If there were anything that couldn't be seen, felt, touched, detected, and never interacts with reality in any way, then it might as well not exist. Quantifying a soul or a spirit seems to be a similar (or the same) concept as quantifying consciousness: the concept itself is so fragmentary and vague that there's no clear way to research it. Address one person's definition, and another person's is left unaddressed. Address all people's definitions, and the research becomes too general. My own guess is that research into the brain/mind will eventually shift the goal-posts of the search, and the concepts of spirit or soul will be left on one side, but that's just a hunch.

    As far as I'm concerned though, being a materialist doesn't mean I can't be moved by deep emotions, insights, or beauty. I still feel "spirit" (the deep the meaningful and the underlying) in things, but I don't feel uncomfortable attributing that feeling to a material universe and nothing more.
    I was saddened to hear Audley Strange's appraisal of how a scientist would classify Michaelangelo's David... it seemed so dismissive, so derisive. I ask for the same thing I asked last time I posted. Stop dichotomising science and art: they're complimentary! They interact! Reality is the essential bedrock of imagination, and knowing it intimately (the way a scientist can) fuels the imagination and gives true contrast to fantasy and abstraction, revealing their beauty rather than reducing it. At least that's the way I see it.
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010
    Stop dichotomising science and art

    Can we have this on a tee-shirt please Paul?
      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010
    Can we have this on a tee-shirt please Paul?


    as regards "spirituality" - so far, the most satisfying description I have come across of a spiritual question is simply one that inquires about the nature of the relationship between the self and the rest of the universe. It doesn't require belief in a god or in any other kind of supernatural manifestation, but it doesn't preclude it either.

    In my own experience, when somebody says to you, "I'm really a very spiritual person," it's comparatively easy to control the urge to set them on fire if you just translate what they are saying as, "I really spend a lot of time worrying about the relationship between myself and the rest of the universe."
  4.  (8121.192)
    @ Paul Duffield. I'm sorry if you were dismayed but Science as method is reductive, the models that we create using that method may be elegantly described, but in and of itself cold objectivity is what makes it work. I ask you, what else could scientific method tell us about the Statue of David? Please also be aware that prior to using my two extremes of scientist and theologist I did say what a normal person may say, someone who is not restricted by the rigours of those disciplines.

    Please don't get me wrong here folks I think both science and our imaginings are fundamentally important however too often people fall into one camp and dismiss the other precisely because they are seperate. To me the trick is not to struggle to find common ground but to celebrate them in their differences in the same way one would sports and cuisine.
    • CommentAuthorSteadyUP
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010 edited
    Analyzing David via the scientific method and appreciating it as art aren't mutually exclusive. A scientist isn't incapable of the latter merely because they are a scientist. And a scientific understanding of the processes involved in carving rock, or the structure of the human body, could make one appreciate it all the more.

    Quantifying a soul or a spirit seems to be a similar (or the same) concept as quantifying consciousness: the concept itself is so fragmentary and vague that there's no clear way to research it.
    But as you say, that could change one day. Something being beyond the possibilities of scientific analysis at the moment, or maybe even ever, doesn't mean it's inherently nonscientific.

    I for one think that consciousness has to exist as some kind of natural phenomena along the lines of electricity or inertia - simply because I can't believe the gulf between sentience and nonsentience could be nothing more than a couple extra brain cells. But I don't kid myself that that's going to be demonstrated empirically anytime soon.

    I guess that's really the central topic here - what is the proper relationship between science and the unprovable?
  5.  (8121.194)
    I think the atheistic view of spirituality could be defined as /substituted by "a belief in the existence of free-will", yes? I mean, from an entirely scientific view, with enough information (heredity, chemical make up, diet, psychological history, environment, societal influence, etc), every action and outcome should be predictable.
      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010
    @Rach - I think you might have trouble with that definition.
    It's entirely possible to be an atheist and not believe in free will. - Determinism.
    and Christianity depends on free will in order to make the concept of Sin make sense.
      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010
    with enough information (heredity, chemical make up, diet, psychological history, environment, societal influence, etc), every action and outcome should be predictable.

    sorry for double post.
    It occurs to me that what you are saying is that if you could document all of the causal factors that influence the shaping of a personality then it should be possible to predict how that personality would react in any given situation? You could, in effect, calculate what the outputs would be, given a sufficiently complete record of inputs. This, plus your question about free will, seems to suggest the question of whether "we" have any volition, any right to call our actions and opinions our own, or whether we are simply automatons, passive observers with the illusion of control, rationalising our own pre-determined actions as they happen...

    I don't believe such a question is unanswerable in principle, but I think it is certainly unanswerable right now and probably for a good long while yet.

    Um, I was hoping Lani would contribute here, about what happens when you tell people that everything they do is pre-determined... I'm not home atm but I will try to find the link for a relevant article from her tumblr when I get home in a few hours, if she hasn't spotted this and replied already by that time... Sorry to build up the suspense and leave y'all hanging like that :P
      CommentAuthormister hex
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010
    Since people have brought it up and "opened the door", as it were ... y'all don't believe in souls? (Some people do - I do - but the general consensus seems to point at the amygdala or pineal gland or something as the "seat" of the soul.) True, it cannot be quantified - or hasn't been yet - and I don't believe they're handed out by a man in a white robe - but I believe ALL people have souls. Even people who don't appear to, the place-holder humans all around us. Bus drivers and the people in the coffee shop and politicians and such. I see no evidence that they DON'T. If you cut them, do they not bleed? Do they not love and laugh, JUST LIKE YOU? Well, they're human, you're human, I'm human. There's a phrase I've heard - "You don't HAVE a soul, you ARE a soul. You HAVE a body." I think that's to be remembered in all dealings with people. In some ways, I'm not looking forward to a society where everything has been discovered, brain-wise; where, if you're upset or having a bad day, people give you a pill or an apple with cocaine in it or something, because a "bad day" is just an imbalance of chemicals blahblahblah. I like a little mystery in life, y'know? And I think the value in perceiving every human as being "special" - having (or being) a "soul" - far outweighs any religious or superstitious implications that might have. It's hard to fire a gun at someone who's humanity you recognize and acknowledge. In Steve Purcell's Sam and Max, he had a bit - "Look through somebody's high school yearbook, who's about your age. See how many people look EXACTLY like people you went to school with." I've done this and it's eerie - you don't know these people but they look disturbingly similar to people you do know, maybe a few pounds heavier or lighter, different hair, etc. How much of this can be attributed to prevailing social trends is debatable. Humans are all one species and it's high time we all started acting like it.

    As to "free will" - again, hoo boy. Who's to say we actually have free will? Again, could it not be a mere "chemical imbalance" that makes people "evil" (or do "evil" things)? What about people with addictions? They don't necessarily have "free will". They can't stop themselves from taking that drink, smoking that substance, cavorting with that busty actress/model. (Ahem.) Free will can be curtailed, controlled, so it's no longer "free" and one is reduced to choosing between which flavor of high fructose corn syrup to "enjoy" with your extra-value meal.

    This hasn't made a lick of sense, has it?
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010
    Were I to give it a definition, I'd say the soul whatever it is that takes a couple billion individual living cells and turns it into a single conscious entity, while simultaneously avoiding the Theseus paradox of having its constituent parts constantly recycled.

    Past that, I give it no particular meaning. But I think that particular definition is mysterious and complicated enough.
  6.  (8121.199)
    I think the soul and free will are illusions created by the brain in order to deal with the world.

    Maybe a lonely ant convinces itself it is a colony.
    • CommentAuthorJiveKitty
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010
    "with enough information (heredity, chemical make up, diet, psychological history, environment, societal influence, etc), every action and outcome should be predictable."

    I suppose, potentially, along some aggregate lines of behaviour, but you'll never have enough information to predict specifics with complete accuracy. A friend of mine would argue to the effect that you'd need to be outside the universe to do so as otherwise you're within the model.

    However, just because actions are predictable does not mean one does not have free will? Because it is still you making the choices?