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Normal

Jan Hus being burned at the stake

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The issue of normalcy is arguably a complicated one. Does the idea of normal change over time or is there something constant that mankind can always refer back to?

A compelling argument against the idea of a transhistorical normalcy is found in poststructural thought. Postructuralists point out that different cultures regard normalcy differently, both now and throughout history.

For example, in Biblical times and the Middle Ages abnormality was often associated with demonic influence or possession. Not a few individuals were literally burnt at the stake when defined as abnormal heretics.

Today, however, it seems both abnormal and cruel that anyone would burn another living person, for any apparent reason whatsoever.

In contemporary society, we see a shift away from religious to medical explanations for abnormality. Violent criminals, for instance, are often said to be mentally ill instead of ‘possessed by Satan.’

Another difficulty in ascertaining the normal as a moral good is the issue of hypocrisy. In sociology, power and labeling theorists suggest that individuals and groups possessing social power often label other powerless individuals and groups as deviant for engaging in practices that members of the high-powered groups profit from.

Although today’s social scene shouldn’t be reduced to such a simple formulation, we should point out that in medieval times there was a high degree of reliability among witch hunters when classifying targeted individuals as witches. And in contemporary society there’s a high degree of reliability among psychiatrists in defining so-called mental illnesses.

However, one could argue that, in both instances, a high degree of reliability in assessment does not necessarily relate to a high degree of validity for that assessment.

In other words, just because a powerful social group says something is so, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it actually is so. This is a basic philosophy 101 point certainly overlooked by witch hunters and sometimes by contemporary psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, along with anyone who unconditionally accepts a particular worldview that happens to be hegemonic or perhaps just in vogue.

Canadian folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn expressed his own views on normality in the song, “The Trouble With Normal” (1981; released 1983):

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.

Search Think Free » Corruption, Death and Resurrection, Defense Mechanism, Deviance, Ego, Icebox Effect, Introjection, Neurosis, Nominalism, Paranormal, Prime Directive, Psychopath, Psychosis, Stages of Psychosexual Development, Suffering, Turning Against the Self, Evelyn Underhil, X-Men

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Noah

Noah damning Ham

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Noah is a a pivotal figure in the Biblical Book of Genesis. He’s depicted as a righteous man and the son of Lamech.

God commands Noah to build an ark, gather up all existing animals and board them in pairs, along with his family so as to escape a massive flood (Genesis 6-9).

In Genesis 10 Noah’s sons Japheth, Ham and Shem are described as the ancestors of all the countries of the Earth.

Later in the Bible, Noah is mostly remembered for his outstanding faith. Although modern criticism has arisen over Noah’s cursing his son Ham after he saw Noah drunk and naked in his tent.

Some feel that this is a Jewish rationalization for conquering the Canaanites and also for bigotry among the Abrahamic religions against those of Black African ancestry, believed to be descendants of Ham.¹

The flood myths of Gilgamesh and Matsu are often cited as parallels to the Noah story (or myth, depending on how you look at it). But there are important differences, most notably in the concept of God, which is central to the Noah story (or myth).

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_Ham

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Nergal

lions of the Procession street towards the Ish...

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Nergal is a Sumerian earth god scorched by the summer sun, who convinced his wife Ereshkigal to combine powers with him.

As Christianity gained dominance Nergal came to be associated with Satan and the spiritual spies of hell. Pious Jews also viewed Nergal as a demonic being.

He’s also the name of a Polish rock star, front man for the group Behemoth.

Search Think Free » Ishtar, Ereshkigal

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Numerology

Licona di Easy Numerology by Omar Cafini

L'icona di Easy Numerology by Omar Cafini

Numerology is the ancient and contemporary belief that there’s an intimate connection between numerical quantity, the workings of the universe and, by implication, future events.

Numerology has roots in India, China and Greece.

Hindu culture was the birthplace of the concept of zero. The Hindus invented the base-10 number system used today, which was brought to the West by Arabs scholars, who further refined the decimal system.

The Mayans also used zero in a base-twenty numeral system.

The Chinese allocated numbers on a sacred board, the Lo Chou, and believed that even and odd numerals represented different objects and conditions (e.g. day and night, white and dark, hot and cold, fire and water, sun and earth).

The Greek philosopher Pythagoras advanced number theory to new heights, applying it to the study of ratios and geometry, often integrating this with the idea of cosmic interconnectedness.

In his discussion on his concept of synchronicity (the belief in meaningful coincidence), the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung cited the idea of recurring numbers as an illustration of one type of synchronicity.

While Jung points out that synchronicity refers to personally meaningful coincidences, he also warns against actively selecting stimuli from the environment to supposedly “discover” phenomena such as recurring numbers. In addition, he does not advocate a secondary interpretation based on (or distorted by) an unresolved complex.

But since it seems that no one is psychologically perfect, this creates a problem for Jung’s theory. At what point of mental ‘healthiness’ does genuine, unaffected synchronicity appear, and biased, false synchronicity depart?

One could argue that today’s physics is a kind of numerology. This is particularly easy to understand within the branch of astronomy called astrophysics. As Freeman Dyson points out in his book, Infinite in all Directions, many advanced theories about cosmic connections are still being worked out and incomplete. Also, they usually encounter rival theories that might better account for the phenomena they try to describe or predict.

In other words, playing with numbers, even at a very high level of abstraction and complexity, is still playing with numbers…

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Nirvana

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Buddhist prayer wheels at Nepal: MC

Nirvana (Pali = Nibbhana) is a Sanskrit term, applied mostly to Buddhism, that’s arguably difficult to understand and has several different interpretations.

Generally speaking, Nirvana refers to a condition where all worldly desires are extinguished or, more literally, “cooled by blowing.”

Buddhists believe that the world is impermanent, essentially unreal and the cause of all suffering. The only way to annihilate suffering is to detach oneself from all worldly cravings and desires. By doing this one apparently avoids another earthly incarnation (see reincarnation).

But most schools of Buddhism take this one step further. Becoming enlightened (another concept with multiple meanings) not only necessitates ridding oneself of all ignorance about the apparent reality of this world but, perhaps most radically, it also involves letting go of the supposedly false idea of one’s essential, individual self.

For some Buddhists, enlightenment is an experience of “nothingness” or “emptiness” (Skt: sunyata). Other Buddhist schools view enlightenment as a blissfully “full void,” the “essence of the Buddha” (Skt: dharma-kaya)  or “ultimate reality” (Skt: dharma-dhatu).

The Buddhist scholar Trevor Ling argues that a common Western misunderstanding sees Nirvana as the extinction of everything. Instead, Ling says, Nirvana points to the extinction of evil passions.

For many who believe in God as a creator of a created reality (to include individual selves), the idea of Nirvana may seem misguided. For believers in God, life isn’t just about shutting down the bad to make room for some kind of alleged ultimate bliss. Rather, life is about striving to serve God, to know God’s will, and enter into a dynamic relationship with God.

Despite what some well-meaning people may say, this seems very different from the Buddhist ideal, and it seems reasonable to suggest that the numinous quality of God-fearing vs. God-denying religions would be equally different.

Nirvana is also the name of a rock band that was popular in the early 1990’s, whose gifted singer, Kurt Cobain, died prematurely under mysterious circumstances.

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Search Think Free » Arhat, Bodhi Tree, Buddha, Eightfold Path, Four Noble Truths, Heart Sutra, Heaven, Reductio ad Absurdum, Rock and Roll, Saints, Throat Singing

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Nicene Creed, The

Image credit: janinsanfran

Image credit: janinsanfran

The Nicene Creed is an early and lasting expression of Christian faith that was formulated for the dual purpose of (a) affirming shared beliefs within the Christian Church and (b) countering various “heretical” sects that Church leaders believed could potentially lead the faithful astray.

Since its formulation at the Council of Nicaea in 325 (CE), the Creed has been reworked to its current day form.

It is recited during the Eucharistic celebration in Catholic, Orthodox and many Protestant Churches:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

As with any public declaration, be it a secular or religious one, one has to wonder how many people recite the words without really believing in everything they say. This is a problem that has intrigued leading scholars of religion and myth, and the question may be applied to any kind of ancient or contemporary religious, mythological, political or ideological data.

Search Think Free » Apostles’ Creed, Holy Spirit, Orthodox Churches

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Newton, Sir Isaac

SIR ISAAC NEWTON – P.L.C.

SIR ISAAC NEWTON – P.L.C. by nutfield2 / Jim Devlin (click on image for explanatory caption)

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was an English physicist, mathematician and alchemist, educated at Cambridge.

In 1665 he developed a form of calculus, an achievement shared with Gottfried Leibniz.

Around 1666 he observed an apple falling in his garden. This prompted musings that lead to his Law of Universal Gravitation.

Newton’s Three Laws of Motion are still taught in just about every high school around the world.

In his studies of light he found that white light contains the entire spectrum. Newton also invented the first reflecting telescope.

Newton also had a slightly unorthodox religious side that many New Age writers are concerned to bring to light. He once said:

Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.¹

And concerning his achievements, he was unusually modest, echoing sentiments found in a popular medieval metaphor:

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.²

Today, pop science and New Age theorists often contrast Newton with Einstein. Newton is sometimes and almost disparagingly said to represent mechanistic ‘old thought’ while Einstein is lauded as the herald of ‘new thought.’  However, Newton was a rare genius whose influence has been profound. And it’s likely that someday another innovative thinker (or group) will come along to replace Einstein’s iconic role as the great genius who revolutionized our way of seeing the world.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton#Religious_views

² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_on_the_shoulders_of_giants

Search Think Free » Alchemy, Deism, Energy, Enlightenment, General Theory of Relativity, Max Plank, Power, Alfred North Whitehead

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“I’ve just invented gravity!”
“The patent’s mine! – Exclusively!”
“Should you not wish to float around?”
“Return this slip – Plus Fifty Pounds!”

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