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Occam’s Razor… and the Anti-Razor

Occam's Razor

Occam’s Razor by Thunderchild7 via Flickr

Occam’s razor is a philosophical belief, associated with William of Occam (c. 1287-1347), that a proverbial razor should cut away all unnecessary variables of a given theory to attain the greatest degree of parsimony.

This means that the best among competing hypotheses are those with the least number of assumptions and which are most easily tested.

Occam’s razor has become a mainstay of the scientific method. However, many see it as reductionist, particularly in psychology, sociology and history.

For example, ancient and medieval cultures saw demons as a factor in both physical and mental illness. But 21st century science tends to dismiss this and most paranormal claims as ‘magical thinking.’ For some, this is not valid science but, rather, a biased and limiting approach to knowledge.

The other night while watching Star Trek Discovery I thought about reductionism and the prevailing view of mental illness. Lieutenant Paul Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp) is in a coma with moments of activity where he apparently speaks nonsense.

Stamets hooked into the spore drive, allowing Discovery to make instantaneous jumps across vast sectors of space. Image via https://www.inverse.com/article/38173-star-trek-discovery-stamets-traveler-theory-tng-next-generation

In reality, however, he is doing essential work in another dimension (generated by a ‘mycelial network’) with his mirror self from a parallel universe. The two selves, primary and mirror, work together in a kind of limbo realm, trying to get back to their respective universes and bodies.¹

For a moment I wondered if this could be a metaphor for some ‘mentally ill’ street people who might be doing important, otherworldly work that seems like madness to the worldly wise.

We can’t know, looking from the outside. Some homeless people might be psychologically wounded and deceived by evil powers. But I think the idea that some may be meaningfully engaged elsewhere is something to think about before writing someone off as a “psycho.”

Another sci-fi adventure illustrating the possible shortcomings of Occam’s razor is found in the movie Contact (1997), based on a novel by Carl Sagan.

Jodie Foster plays scientist, Ellie Arroway, who travels through a wormhole and meets an intelligent being at the edge of the universe. Arroway returns to Earth in a matter of seconds and, of course, no one believes a word of her incredible story. As a scientist, Arroway concedes that she could have been hallucinating due to stress overload. But as a human being, her heart tells her that her otherworldly experience was real.

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Not surprisingly, holistic thinkers often question the value of Occam’s razor. And some philosophers have forwarded anti-razor theories to counter what they see as its confining simplicity, along with comparable beliefs preceding Occam’s razor.²

¹ (a) At least, that is what the primary believes. He ends up in the wrong universe. I got a little help here from this page: http://ew.com/recap/star-trek-discovery-season-1-episode-12/  (b) Margaret Atwood recently said sci-fi basically tells us about the now. In part I agree but also think sci-fi can be so much more than mere political commentary. Good sci-fi takes us to new possibilities.

² (a) Aristotle and others voiced ideas similar to Occam’s. See http://lnr.li/vUOng/ (b) Before sophisticated planetary tracking technology, in the early 19th century another issue was about drawing curves from the noisy data of planetary movement. If the dots were joined too loosely and smoothly, accuracy was lost. If joined too precisely, erratic data might have skewed the overall curve. So getting the right balance was important. See Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Edition: https://is.muni.cz/el/1421/podzim2014/LJMgrB07/um/Cambridge_Dictionary_of_Philosophy.pdf pp. 197-198, 629.

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Obi Wan Kenobi – Wise Old Man and Sacred Warrior

Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi via Wikipedia

In the Star Wars Original Trilogy (1977-83), Obi Wan Kenobi is an honorable Jedi knight, played by actor Alec Guinness. He is also a spiritual teacher for the young hero, Luke Skywalker.

Obi Wan is the only character to appear within the first six Star Wars films. He appears in voice for the seventh but is absent in the latest Star Wars incarnation, The Last Jedi.¹

Guinness was nominated for an academy award for his 1977 Star Wars performance.

In the Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005), Obi Wan is portrayed by Ewan McGregor.

Most moviegoers and critics generally agree that the Prequel Trilogy isn’t quite as good as the Original Trilogy, but it does highlight the early development of Obi Wan’s charitable character.

Embed from Getty Images

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In Jungian thought, the Alec Guinness version of Obi Wan exemplifies the archetype of the wise old man. Obi Wan’s miraculous ability to manipulate “The Force” for the greater good also fits with the archetype of the Sacred Warrior.

In the PBS TV series The Power of Myth (1988), the American mythology expert Joseph Campbell says the original Star Wars films are a modern myth. They take ancient themes and recast them in a modern light.

Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (right) and Padawan O...

Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (right) and Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, as portrayed by Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace via Wikipedia

George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, consulted with Campbell while making the original trilogy so the classic “hero cycle,” as scholars put it, would ring true with 20th century moviegoers.

Campbell met regularly with Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, Karl Kerényi and other notable scholars of myth at the annual Eranos Conferences.

So this is a good example of scholarship having relevance, meeting with pop culture, and actually reaching the people—unlike some scholars who use academe as a kind of hideaway where they can enjoy the good life while doing mediocre work.

¹ Apparently there was not enough archival material to include him, and director Rian Johnson felt that a meeting of Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan played by Ewan McGregor (the second actor to portray Obi Wan) would be emotionally unsatisfying.

Related » Bhagavad-Gita, Yoda

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 Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off film to start shooting in 2019 (telegraph.co.uk)

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 What Does the ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Ending Mean for the Future of the Trilogy? (slashfilm.com)

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 All 9 ‘Star Wars’ movies, ranked from worst to best (mlive.com)

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Princess Leia – A Star Wars icon lives on

Carrie Fisher who plays Leia – Wikipedia

There’s a new Star Wars film out which some say is the best since The Empire Strikes Back, and Princess Leia is up next for revision.

A nice coincidence, especially since actor Carrie Fisher, who plays the original Leia, also plays Leia in later years as Senator and General Leia Organa.

In the Star Wars Trilogy, Princess Leia is Luke Skywalker‘s twin sister and Darth Vader‘s daughter.

Reflecting attitudes of the late 1970s, Leia is cast as a feminist and still serves today as a feminist role model.

A few people say she’s not a great feminist icon, but on the whole Leia is seen that way.

Perhaps the critics don’t like the male chauvinism that pervades the early Star Wars scripts.

Han Solo, for instance, condescendingly says he knows, despite Leia’s apparent disgust toward his sexual advances, that she “really wants it.” And Leia’s role in the film sometimes evokes a more traditional female sex role stereotype.

As noted in a sidebar at Wikipedia:

Leia wearing her iconic golden “metal bikini” slave outfit at Jabba’s palace. Leia’s appearance has been voted one of the most memorable swimsuit moments of cinema history.¹

English: Christy Marie as Slave Leia Organa.

Christy Marie as Slave Leia Organa – Wikipedia

Is this a showcase for the feminist sentiments of the time? I suppose it depends on the person interpreting. Like most social movements, feminism moves within a total context so has been evolving… slowly.

Before her untimely death in 2016 Fisher occasionally introduced vintage films with Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne.

She also struggled with mood swings that she managed with drug use. Embracing the diagnosis of “bipolar disorder” given to her by the medical establishment, she evidently had no other way to decode her feelings and the medical model arguably didn’t help too much.

This is unfortunate. I often feel that if some took a broader view of their unconventional psychological experiences they might get a better grip on them—without the use of heavy drugs or, as Fisher underwent, ECT.²

General Leia is in theaters as I write this. The posthumous release of Fisher’s performance in The Last Jedi is helping to make box office records.

Like all Hollywood greats, Fisher lives.

¹ This quote is from several years ago. The link and caption has changed to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Leia%27s_bikini 

² Recently I was surprised to learn that the medical establishment still practices ECT. When I took psych in the 1980s ECT was frowned upon as a part of psychiatry’s dark history. That this practice continues today, with such spurious scientific backing, imo is horrific.

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 Star Wars: 15 Crazy Minor Characters You NEED To Know About (screenrant.com)

 ‘The Last Jedi’ first premiere reactions are here and – you guessed it – the Force is strong (mashable.com)

 Review – ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (space.com)

 Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones review: ‘a pleasant surprise’ (telegraph.co.uk)

 The Ultimate Star Wars Quiz: Find Out Which Character Matches Your Personality (time.com)

 Star Wars Project Demise Due To “Team Health” Issues At Visceral, Not Single-Player Focus (wccftech.com)

 “The Last Jedi” Felt Like a Dream. I’m Not Sure I Even Really Saw It. (motherjones.com)


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Star Trek’s Prime Directive – A lofty idea with a few wrinkles

Image FET-OPEN call deadline via Twitter

In the fictional world of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is a core regulation of Starfleet. To understand what the Prime Directive means, we have to know how Star Trek depicts its moral universe.

Star Fleet officers usually see themselves as an alliance of “good guys” belonging to the United Federation of Planets, as opposed to the “bad guys” made of up species like the Cardassians and the Borg.

Starfleet is concerned about right ethics, so the Prime Directive stipulates noninterference with other species’ planetary development.

This applies to space exploration through normal time¹ and to time travel. Violating the prime directive results in court-martial, except in extenuating circumstances.

The Prime Directive sounds like a great idea but, we could ask, what exactly does “non-interference” mean?

Extreme causal loop time travel paradox animation

Extreme causal loop time travel paradox animation – Wikipedia

Religious and New Age people, for instance, tend to say that humanity is invisibly guided by advanced beings residing in the universe, astral realms, heavens and throughout time.² If so, a Federation starship crew might have a moral responsibility to help primitive but eligible species develop better ways of living.

Despite its lofty ideal of non-interference, the Prime Directive is often breached. Moral dilemmas are key to dramatic storytelling and, it goes without saying, TV ratings. In real life, St. Paul says that moral dilemmas are best solved by following the spirit instead of the letter of the law.³ So it’s not surprising that the Prime Directive is often messed with.

As any good popcorn popping cultural studies or phony entertainment critic will say, art follows life and life follows art.

A relatively novel mystery arises with The Prime Directive’s treatment of temporal paradoxes. For obvious reasons, Star Trek’s writers never fully answer the tricky question: Could a time traveler going back in time be certain what choice out of many possible choices would be best? Or, for that matter, is there a single, best choice?

English: Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as Borg Locutus...

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as Borg Locutus – Wikipedia

Possible answers to these conundrums lead to notions of a plethora of potential outcomes and universes (to include parallel universes) and a multiverse (which differs from parallel universes).

Tantalizing cosmological questions have been posed by both mystics and subatomic physicists, but no universally agreed upon answers have been found due to their speculative nature.4

But one thing is certain. The Star Trek mythos is no silly fantasy but, rather, provides us with some of the best imaginative thinking in 20th and 21st century science fiction.

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¹ Technically, Star Trek might be at odds with reality because warp speeds are faster than the speed of light but travelers experience no time dilation. But being good sci-fi, fans are obviously willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  They weren’t as forgiving with Space 1999, which was visually interesting but a bit of a bomb.

² For some, demons try to get us off track.

³ Usually associated with St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:6, the idea has other applications. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_and_spirit_of_the_law

4 Sometimes the speculation is forwarded as a hypothesis, which is good, healthy science or mysticism. But other times it is not, as with those claiming to have advanced knowledge that others lack. In religion and the New Age, these mentally unwell characters may be ego-inflated holy men and women or, from my experience, some religious studies professors who do their esoteric “thing” under the cover of academia. In both cases, these half-baked manipulators are blind to their own prejudices and do everything possible to convince you that they know better. Watch out!

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Psi Spies – A different kind of dark web?

Preamble (skip)

I always feel a bit apprehensive writing about paranormal phenomena (psi). Earthpages is about dialog and change. And none of that will happen if readers are alienated by fringe topics.

If I simply wanted to mirror today’s trends and forget the call to innovation, my words might be a good fit at HuffPost or some other leading site. But that’s not me nor how I envision Earthpages.

Paranormal phenomena may be fringe but for some it’s very real. I know. I’ve met people like that. Actually, there are differences among psi believers. Some, like myself, don’t have a problem with, say, going to Catholic Mass and accepting that paranormal events may occur.

I walk the line, as the song goes. I don’t want to get too close to the paranormal crowd because, frankly, some of them do seem a bit misguided and flaky.

By the same token, I question whether I’d call myself a “Catholic” or simply a “Christian.” I’m a Catholic in the eternal sense but certainly not in the cultural, card carrying sense. You won’t see me parading around with placards condemning the latest moral issues highlighted by the Vatican (funny how those visible protesters rarely get up in arms about other serious things… like corruption, for instance).

Point is, I straddle different worlds, never really belonging to but participating in many. The same with my regard for psi. I listen to Coast to Coast AM but tune out when the show gets silly. Just as I’d tune out a TV preacher the moment they start delivering that “God loves abundance” sermon with the donation number flashing on the screen.

Psi Spies (back to top)

Psi has become slightly more mainstream over the past few years. I just wrote about psi and so far the piece has 8 likes. Not astronomical but better than none.¹

Most say that psi studies don’t produce reliable results. However, law enforcement agencies still consult with psychics in search of dangerous criminals.

The US government pulled the plug on a Remote Viewing project because, so the story goes, it didn’t produce results. But some of the faithful still practice and write about RV. Researchers say they are honing a technique that will enable anyone to RV.

In this case, seeing really is believing.

Backtracking a bit, an Oxford schooled Indian mystic, Sri Aurobindo, once wrote that humanity is evolving into some kind of uberman.²

If Aurobindo and other gurus are right, a new type of battlefield might arise in the not-too-distant future. After all, information is key. And if certain, gifted individuals could “read” or “see” others at a distance, wouldn’t that be a staggering asset?

Enter psi spies.

Dystopian futurists predict psi spies perceiving the innermost secrets of VIPs. These psychic sneaks would have socially acceptable covers and go unnoticed. Your professor, the charity organizer, the brain surgeon next door.

The hostiles would work up profiles of victims along with their friends and families, using that knowledge to control markets, the government, skim off tax dollars, or some other nefarious scheme. Resistance might not be futile but it would be difficult.

Clandestine psi spies could marginalize and try to stir up conflict among those who cotton on to their creepiness. Like termites chewing away at the foundations of democracy, psi spies would be tough to eradicate. Some might even marry gullible innocents to strengthen their cover.

So it’s all linked in this dark vista—politics, crime, love and the psyche.

Another conspiracy theory best left to sci-fi?

Maybe. But Jim Marrs doesn’t think so. His book, Psi Spies: The True Story of America’s Psychic Warfare Program, notes that paranormal encounters play a principal role in most world religions, to include Native American and Biblical traditions. Marrs adds that several US administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have funded psi studies.³

It’s good to keep an open mind. But maybe not too open. After all, we wouldn’t want to be “hacked” – that is, compromised – by the wrong kind of people!

¹ A mediocre response could be more about my presentation. Working on it… 🙂

² I think Aurobindo was too self-absorbed. He says he helped the Allies in WW-II by virtue of his intense meditation. Interesting, but how could anyone confirm a claim like that?

³ Jim Marrs, Psi Spies: The True Story of America’s Psychic Warfare Program, New Page Books, 2007, p. 16.

Image credit, top – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Spy_FM_Logo.png


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Panpsychism – The Future Calls?

Toaster is in lurve

Toaster is in lurve: Cle0patra “Toaster has a new friend – Ice, they’ve been inseparable since she arrived” via Flickr

Panpsychism is the belief that all things possess consciousness. Some extend this belief to say that the type of consciousness matches the complexity of a thing’s organization.

The idea goes back to ancient times and has appeared around the globe. But it was rejected by a Church that adhered to a speculative, Aristotelian view of matter and which made a sharp distinction between organic and inorganic substances.¹

The Church’s teaching that human beings, alone, have souls complicated things, especially during times when disagreeing with or merely peeving powerful religious authoritarians could lead to ruin—that is, loss of property, torture and death.

After the Church, the philosophy of logical positivism helped to further squash panpsychism in the mid-20th century.

But it never went away.

Interest in panpsychism reemerged in academic philosophy, the New Age, science fiction and quantum physics. Also, it never really left Eastern religions, especially within Korean, Japanese and Chinese beliefs.

Image via Google Images CC

Today, with the rise of robotics, computing and artificial intelligence, a whole new vista of debate has opened up.

A contemporary panpsychist might say that an electrical circuit or machine generates a quality of consciousness in keeping with the degree of that object’s organizational complexity.

Also, the way a thing is organized could affect its consciousness. Not just the degree.

Sound nuts?

Well, let’s remember that human consciousness is demonstrably affected by our bodies and especially the electrochemical pulses coursing through the brain, nervous system and organs. So maybe the panpsychic view is not too far-fetched.

Additional critiques of panpsychism maintain that it is doubtful machines have souls, which many say is an essential component to life.

This might seem like the most compelling critique.

But can we be certain that God does not instill certain machines with souls… if not now, perhaps in the future?

St. Jerome produced a 4th-century Latin edition of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, that became the Catholic Church’s official translation – Wikipedia

Also, as our human bodies are increasingly transformed by science and technology even before conception – with in vitro fertilization – where do we draw the line between mankind and machine?

Traditional theology classes would probably not ponder these kinds of questions in a mature way.

It seems they are more geared toward generating revenue, defining intellectual boundaries and inculcating organizational obedience within a financially free clergy.²

But the questions raised by panpsychism are not going away. And soon they will have to be taken seriously.

Our future might depend on it.

¹ (a) This agrees with “Aristotle’s distinction between the mineral kingdom and the animal and vegetative kingdoms.” https://books.google.ca/books?id=KGaghraz8AUC&pg=PA526&lpg=PA526&dq=Aristotle%E2%80%99s+distinction+between+the+mineral+kingdom+and+the+animal+and+vegetative+kingdoms&source=bl&ots=o6Uhhd0oLB&sig=agRCj_3qQwuEsfs99EywODtzNac&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwirkcut4r7UAhVK44MKHQLxBaYQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=Aristotle%E2%80%99s%20distinction%20between%20the%20mineral%20kingdom%20and%20the%20animal%20and%20vegetative%20kingdoms&f=false

(b) “There is no clear or universally agreed-upon distinction between organic and inorganic compounds.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inorganic_compound

² From the perspective of depth psychology, emotionally challenged individuals often want something to cling on to. It might be hoards of money, status, or just something old and familiar. I say “financially free” because clergy who fit the bill are not burdened with financial concerns. How many working people around the world can claim that?

Related » Artificial Intelligence (AI), Strong AI Thesis, Leibniz, Spinoza


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The Q – Star Trek’s mythic gods

Q (Star Trek)

Q (Star Trek) – Photo Wikipedia

The Q is a fictional group entity in Star Trek TOS spin-offs and films. Members reside in an eternal field of space-time called the Q-continuum. Like the avatar in Hinduism, the Q appear in specific moments of space-time to apparently regulate the ebb and flow of events in the universe.

The manifestation of Q that usually appears in the Star Trek franchise is male and played by actor John de Lancie. Simply called “Q,” he conforms to the trickster archetype.

Like most mythological deities, the manifest aspect of Q uses supernatural powers to baffle, vex and test human beings to the point of distraction. And like most otherworldly pantheons, there is a faction of rebellion within the Q-continuum. The rebels are tired of being “good” and politically correct at the expense of enjoying their free will and vitality. These dissenters are prohibited and disciplined through punishment by the Q moral majority.

Here’s how I put it in my entry for Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series in which he first appears:

And then there was “Q,” played by actor John de Lancie, who was something akin to a classical Greek god in that he had powers and knowledge extending beyond our normal conception of space and time. Also like the Greek gods, he often abused these powers in childish ways and even challenged the authority of the Q Continuum (the ruling body of the Q, representing its status quo), resulting in his frequent punishment.

More recently Wikipedia notes that:

The similarity between Q and Trelane, the alien encountered in the Star Trek episode “The Squire of Gothos“, inspired writer Peter David to establish in his 1994 novel Q-Squared that Trelane is a member of the Continuum, and that Q is his godfather.¹

Trelane - with harpsichord (under his arm...)

Trelane – via startrek.com

I’m not sure if this interpretation of Trelane (one of my favorite characters in the original Star Trek) is endorsed by those who define the Star Trek canon. But the literary device of retroactive continuity certainly has become a mainstay in the Star Trek universe.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_(Star_Trek)

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