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Pluto – Even a planet can’t be sure of its status

New Horizons Spacecraft approaching Pluto

Pluto was formerly defined as the ninth and smallest planet in our solar system but on August 24, 2006 it was redefined as a dwarf planet, and the total number of planets was reduced to eight. This happened because astronomers discovered several similarly sized objects in a belt just past Neptune, known as the Kuiper belt.

I remember growing up as a kid, having the notion that there are nine planets in our solar system rammed into my head. Well, even scientific claims like the number of planets is subject to change. Although I must admit, I still think of Pluto as a planet. And all that other similarly sized stuff, well, it’s just stuff. (The power of naming, I guess).

In ancient Greek myth Plutos was a god of wealth. Hence the word, plutocracy (rule by wealthy elites). But Pluto is more commonly known as the lord of the underworld.

Eirene (Peace) bearing Plutus (Wealth), Roman copy after a Greek votive statue by Kephisodotos (ca. 370 BC) which stood on the agora in Athens.

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Poseidon – One of the 12 Olympians

Temple of Poseidon under sunset sky, Cap Sunion, Greece

In Greek myth Poseidon is the son of the Titan Cronus and Titaness Rhea, the brother of Hades and Zeus. Originally the god of earthquakes and violent acts of nature, he became the god of the sea and is usually depicted with a trident. He is one of the 12 Olympians of ancient Greece (master gods who reside on Mount Olympus). His Roman equivalent is Neptune.

Poseidon is said to have watched over the oracle at Delphi before Apollo replaced him as caretaker. Poseidon was also held responsible for inflicting certain mental and physical diseases, such as epilepsy. It was quite common in the ancient world to attribute disease to the wrath of the gods, the attack of evil powers, or as a punishment for some kind of offense.

In the ancient world, supernatural punishment for an offense wasn’t necessarily just. Christian theologians often say that the pagan gods do not mete out constructive punishment, tailored for a sinner’s salvation, as does the monotheistic God of Christian scripture. Rather, the pagan gods are often petty and vengeful, even irrational. On this point, it’s hard to argue otherwise; many examples can be found throughout ancient mythology.

In popular culture the blockbuster film The Poseidon Adventure (1972) portrayed the fictional story of a vintage luxury liner that turns turtle when hit by a huge wave en route to Athens.

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Positivism – not so positive after all

August Comte via Wikipedia

Positivism is a branch of philosophical thought asserting that all knowledge is arrived at through observing phenomena and learning facts.

Although the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of western thought, the modern sense of the approach was formulated by the philosopher Auguste Comte in the early 19th century. Comte argued that, much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other absolute laws, so does society.¹

Proponents of positivism advocate the sheer negation of any kind of knowing that cannot be demonstrated to others. Love, mysticism, introspection, intuition, metaphysics and theology are all rejected. As absurd as this may seem, we find aspects of this unsavory outlook in contemporary society. Today, many people uncritically uphold apparently positivist truth claims that, in fact, are not even truly positivist.

A good example can be found in in psychiatry, where all sorts of ideological, political and economic statements pose as scientific “truth” while competing theories within psychiatry, itself, are downplayed. This is especially so in neuropsychology where competing theories about, for example, “depression” exist. However, by the time we visit the psychiatrist’s office or watch TV ads selling medications, we hear only a simplified version of the dominant theory at any given point in time. And competing ideas are effectively blocked from public awareness.²

Moritz Schlick, the founding father of logical...

Moritz Schlick, the founding father of logical positivism and the Vienna Circle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So instead of involving, say, a complex relation of spiritual, social, environmental, biological and ethical factors, the idea of depression has sometimes been narrowed down to a “chemical imbalance.” Again, this seems absurdly simple. But we hear it time and again in the 21st century, with believers uncritically repeating the idea.

This would not be such a huge problem if it merely involved personal choice. But psychiatry has legal power, in varying degrees depending on where one lives. And believers sometimes try to push their simplistic beliefs onto others who would rather – or perhaps must – think for themselves, making this not only a philosophical issue but also a human rights issue.

In the 20th century “logical positivism” arose as an elaboration of positivism. Logical positivism deals with the meaning and verification of statements.


² I own an excellent Oxford handbook that outlines competing biochemical theories for depression. I just searched my home a second time, trying to find it. Unfortunately, it’s still missing. But I plan to find and list it here.

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Process Theology – A God who loves

Image credit - Anthony Easton via Flickr

Image credit – Anthony Easton via flickr

Process Theology means different things to different people. Generally speaking, it refers to the idea that God is both wholly other yet immanent within a process of creation.

Christian versions emphasize a God who is, on the one hand, eternal, unchanging and beyond, and yet who also feels and is affected by the actions of humanity.¹

According to this view, God suffers with humanity, leading individuals to eternal salvation not through coercion but as a loving parent, friend or spouse.

Wikipedia says that process theology comes out of the work of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, but this claim could be a bit misleading if taken out of context. Reading further down the Wikipedia entry, we see that Whitehead is influenced by a whole host of Medieval theologians and ancient philosophers—St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, Aristotle, to name just a few.

The same entry at Wikipedia sums up the general Christian view of process theology very nicely:

Rather than see God as one who unilaterally coerces other beings, judges and punishes them, and is completely unaffected by the joys and sorrows of others, process theologians see God as the one who persuades the universe to love and peace, is supremely affected by even the tiniest of joys and the smallest of sorrows, and is able to love all beings despite the most heinous acts they may commit. God is, as Whitehead says, “the fellow sufferer who understands.²

¹ Those interested should look at the discussion of Dipolar Theism.

² See this entry for some of the variations present in Christian and non-Christian faith groups:

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The Prodigy – What do “dark stars” tell us about society?

The Prodigy Perform At Stadium Live Club In Moscow – By: Kommersant Photo – People: Keith Flint

The Prodigy are a British pop band most popular in the 1990’s and the turn of the century. Their often controversial “big beat” electronic music was banned from some American department stores. The BBC also had issues with some of The Prodigy’s material. Canada, however, never had a problem with The Prodigy.¹

In their heyday they were perceived as dark stars, replete with devilish and disturbing videos. But we should keep in mind that a lot of Rock and Roll was initially taken this way. One could see The Prodigy’s work as artistic representation, not entirely unlike the horrific yet socially ‘acceptable’ works of the visual artist Hieronymus Bosch.

It remains to be seen if The Prodigy will survive as long as the former bad boys of Rock and Roll, The Rolling Stones, whose lead man Mick Jagger ironically became part of Britain’s highest social order – knighted by the Queen.²

This leaves us with a lingering question:

Does society really change or do many so-called rebels eventually learn how to play the game, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, and simply fit in?



† It was difficult choosing the headline image for this entry. See for several more good shots.

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Protestantism – Another take on the Biblical Jesus

The Apprentice Boys March of the Orange Order leads through a street in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The march, which involves the playing of traditional Orange songs such as ‘The Sash My Father Wore’, celebrates the ending of a seige on the town by the Catholic army under Lord Antrim in April 1689. An earlier attempt to hold the city was foiled by a group of 13 apprentices, hence the name of the march. Catholic protests against the march in 1969 led to stone throwing and rioting and partly towards the IRA terror campaign of 1969-1994. The 1995 march took place against protests that this kind of provocative behaviour should not occur in the light of the ongoing peace talks.

I didn’t always have a keen interest in religion and spirituality. Growing up as a kid, I was pretty average and didn’t belong to a churchgoing family. Weekends were mostly spent cottaging or skiing. And that really left no time nor interest for sitting in a stuffy old church on Sundays.

Things changed, though, and I became increasingly interested in psychoanalytic and, soon after, numinous issues. This led me to India where I did a Masters in Comparative Religion. Because, however, I had virtually no religious background, I remember being caught off guard by an Indian professor who once asked me, “Are you Protestant or Catholic?”

“Uh… I was baptized in the Anglican Church,” I replied after quickly remembering what my parents had told me. So walking home from class I mused, I guess that makes me a Protestant.

In other words, I hardly knew the difference or, at least, never really gave it much serious thought. I was far more interested in Asian religions at the time. Christianity just seemed so wooden and non-experiential.

Again, things changed and I actually converted to Catholicism in 2001. But that’s another story. And today I am far from an uncritical Catholic, believing – or pretending to believe – in all the teachings piped in from the Vatican. In fact, I have evolved so much since converting that I only hold the core of Catholicism close to my heart. All the rest, all the hypocrisy and clannish thinking, well, I had to let it go.

Some may say I’m a “fallen away” or “lapsed” Catholic. But I’d just say that as I grew in spiritual maturity, the confines of the Church became more of a hassle than a help.

So with that personal preamble, I’ll jump to what I wrote about Protestantism several years ago:

Protestantism is a Christian movement that separated believers from the Catholic Church and its Papal authority in the 16th and 17th centuries.

A Protestant is a member of a Church that follows regulations formed during the Reformation. And today I would add… Important figures in the Protestant Reformation are John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Ulrich Zwingli.

And that’s about all I have to say on the topic. I don’t find it very fruitful to enter into debates about “who’s right” because, frankly, I see both Protestant and Catholic teachings as only partially right. So why get into all the fuss of heated debates? I think many who do that are really working out their inherited biases and unresolved complexes, all under the mask of being righteous and holy.

In my case, I find it liberating to finally say what I really think rather than hold back out of fear. As a new Catholic, I knew I didn’t agree with everything. But I feared that if I said so, they’d kick me out. I admit, I wouldn’t like it if that happened today. But as Elton John sings,

And you can’t go back, and if you try it fails
Looking up ahead I see a rusty nail
A sign hanging from it saying, ‘Truth for sale’
And that’s what we did, no lies at all, just one more tale
About the captain and the kid


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Psyche – More than a bundle of chemicals

Psyche and Amor, also known as Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss (1798), by François Gérard – Wikipedia

Psyche (Greek: soul or spirit) is the personification of the soul in Graeco-Latin myth.

The early Roman writer Apuleius looks at psychological transformation and the love between Cupid and Psyche in The Golden Ass, one of the earliest surviving Latin texts.

Apuleius is interesting because he is familiar not only with ancient Greek, Roman but also Egyptian religions, especially the once popular mystery cult of the goddess Isis.

In the ancient world, psychology and metaphysics, alike, use the term psyche to refer to the soul or the total person. In the Middle Ages it was translated into the Latin, anima.

The notion that psyche refers to more than a bundle of chemicals carries through in psychology right up to Sigmund Freud and especially to Carl Jung. Each of these 20th century thinkers use German translations (Seele) of the term psyche within their respective models of the self.

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