The Age of the Hermit

“You shall go with me, newly married bride,  
And gaze upon a merrier multitude;  
White-armed Nuala, Aengus of the birds,  
Feacra of the hurtling foam, and him  
Who is the ruler of the Western Host,  
Finvarra, and their Land of Heart’s Desire,  
Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood,  
But joy is wisdom, Time an endless song.  
I kiss you and the world begins to fade.”

– From The Land of Heart’s Desire by WB Yeats

I had a strange dream last night.

It was bin day, and I was sitting outside with the rubbish bags. (I don’t know why.) The bin men came and picked me up with the rubbish. This led to my sad demise. The thing was, nothing actually changed. Everyone could still see me and talk to me. I ran around trying to persuade everyone that I was, in fact, dead, and could someone please do something about it? A funeral or an investigation, maybe? “That Naomi,” a friend of mine said to another friend, while I was within earshot. “Always the attention-seeker. This time it’s death, is it? Typical.” Continue reading

Pagans, Quantum Physics and Rationality

In my experience, Pagans are amazing at skepticism, logic and rational argument – when it comes to other people’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Most Pagans that I know could tell you a lot about how Jesus is not the only dying-and-rising god that ancient societies ever thought of, or how Christmas was influenced by pre-Christian pagan traditions.

But many of these Pagans are not so good at deconstructing their own beliefs on certain things. People with fantastic minds, who I love talking to, and who I’ve heard demolish other people’s ideas, somehow often fall short of that intelligence and philosophical sharpness when it comes to common Pagan beliefs. Their own beliefs.

And one of the worst ways this happens is when the topic of quantum physics comes up.

Quantum Physics: Proof of Magic?

This week, Fire Lyte linked to this post on his Facebook wall.  The response was… interesting. Lots of people trying to prove that the writer of the article didn’t know anything about quantum physics. Not looking at their own beliefs.

There are repeating comments that I hear on this subject a lot. Comments that are loaded with logical fallacies. I’ve heard statements from Pagans on quantum physics that demonstrate the following fallacies:

Argument from complexity (similar to an argument from ignorance): “Science is proving so many weird and complex things! So quantum physics could prove that my candle magic caused my pay rise!” Yes, it could, though the probability isn’t high, given what we know about quantum physics so far. Now come back to me when it does prove that and when we have evidence of this. Yes, science is proving some complex and weird things these days. We cannot use that to assume that it will prove what we want it to prove.

Argument from silence: the idea that, since something cannot (yet) be disproved, it is proven. “The universe is a weird place. There are things in the universe that we will never be able to explain. We just can’t know everything!” We cannot argue that, because science shows that there is much about the universe we don’t understand, it proves that anything is possible. It specifically doesn’t do that.

Ad hominem attack: an attack on the person who is writing/arguing, rather than on their arguments. “That person doesn’t know anything about quantum physics!” Doesn’t prove that you do. This argument should at least be followed up with “And here’s a link to some evidence that I’m going to use to argue my point. It is reliable because it is published in a respectable peer-reviewed scientific journal. It is backed up by these six other articles from six different reliable journals, and this conference paper, and this statement from the scientific community.” If not, you haven’t proven anything by attacking one individual, rather than focusing on their argument.

Shifting the burden of proof: “Can you prove to me that quantum physics doesn’t cause magic to work?” No, I can’t. But the burden of proof is on you, not me. As Carl Sagan said, “Extrodinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

– Correlation proves causation: thinking that, because two things coincide, then one must be caused by the other. “Every time I get acupuncture I feel better. This must prove that quantum mechanics causes it to work.” That’s great. There may be all manner of reasons why that treatment is helping you. I have enormous faith in the badly-named ‘placebo effect’, which would be better called ‘the human body’s self-healing effect’. When I go for reflexology and acupuncture, I’m working on my body’s self-healing mechanisms. Also, quantum physics exists. There’s absolutely no reason why one should have anything to do with the other.

(Note: This is stretching the bounds of the correlation fallacy, a bit. I think it’s relevant. Tell me if you disagree!)

Mind projection fallacy: i.e. because this belief matters to me, it’s relevant to everyone – and my opinion is worth more than your facts. “I believe quantum theory proves magic, and my opinion is just as valid as any scientist’s”. No, no, it’s not. Come back when you’ve studied quantum theory to doctorate level. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to the experts.

False equivalence: “Homeopathy causes a quantum leap in a person’s physiology” (a direct quote from someone I know) – using the term in a way that scientists don’t use it, and confusing two different meanings of the word in the process. Here, the informal term ‘quantum leap’ has nothing to do with the physics term ‘quantum’. The statement is basically nonsense. (Sorry.)

I suspect there are many more logical fallicies in these arguments that I haven’t spotted yet. Have you seen any others? Let me know!

Your Mind Turned To Mush

You have an amazing mind. We all do. We’ve all won the lottery when it comes to consciousness, to quote Simon Clare. Evolution, one of the most exciting processes on the planet, has gifted us with thinking minds. Unfortunately, human beings get very attached to our irrational beliefs, again for reasons of evolution and our past survival. In the distant past, being able to see the pattern of a tiger moving between the trees was probably vital for our survival. Now, though, we hang on to that pattern-finding faculty even when it’s not necessary. We see patterns and call them magic. And we have all the right in the world to believe in magic. (I do!) What we can’t do, because we’ll never succeed, is argue that there is objective proof of that magic in science.

Why does it matter? Because we look like total idiots when we do it. Ultimately, if you want to make logical fallacies all over the place and demonstrate that your mind has turned to mush, you go right ahead. It doesn’t bother me. But you’re wrong. And if you want to be right – as your constant arguing suggests you do – then you may want to go away and educate yourself about science. Use that fabulous mind of yours – especially about your own beliefs. If you don’t, someone else will.

You won’t lose anything. You stand to gain a lot, though.

On another level, I guess I want to be a member of a religious/spiritual group that doesn’t talk rubbish. I was a member of evangelical Christian churches for a long time. My bullshit meter eventually exploded. I happen to think that the Pagan community can do better. Our community should be full of thoughtful, intelligent, well-read people who test our claims against reason, reality and science. I’ve met us. We’re clever people!

Faith Can’t Be Proven

Ultimately, some things will always be about faith, and unprovable. I believe in fairies, for fuck’s sake. What I don’t do is try and prove fairies with science. (Though now I want to draw a picture of gleeful fairies preventing me from proving them through science by messing up all my experiments.)

You have the right to your beliefs. Your right to impose those beliefs on others is much more limited. “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose.”

And if you’re trying to persuade people of something using science, you’d better have a damn good grounding in what that science means. I don’t – I have GCSE science grade B (i.e. I know that plants contain chlorophyll and some basic formulae about mass and force). What I do have is a Master’s in Sociology and I’m a couple of years away from a doctorate in Religions. I stick with what I know, which is learning everything I can about why we believe what we believe. And what effect that has on the rest of society. That matters to me. I believe it should matter to all of us.

Now there’s a belief that’s probably full of logical fallacies…!

If you like podcasts, a great one on rational thinking, logic, philosophy and religion is the Reasonable Doubts podcast. And they have a wonderful Polyatheism section where they go over the highly unlikely pagan myths of the past. They’ve just started a three-week series on Cuchullain. Enjoy!

I’ll leave you with a link to a relevant article. Problem-Solving ‘Magic’ of Quantum Physics

Cross-posted to Accidental Auguries.

Early Summer: Urban Druidry…

The chill left the still air.
The land was caught between breaths.
Unseen, laughing hands took mine
and led me down,
down through lonely alleyways,
past the graveyard overgrown with hawthorn and forget-me-nots,
between the narrow, tumbledown gate-posts,
and out into a sudden shock of green,
where a yellow carpet fell among the young oaks
and butterflies and dragonflies remembered distant sunny afternoons.

From the top of the world I stood above the sparkling city
while it whispered to me old, old secrets.

But I know there are no green places left in London,
no meadows not lost to departed faery feet.
So it must have been an Otherworldly hill they took me to,
another city, just out of mundane sight
that I looked down upon. Continue reading

Elf Fire, Ellylldan, and the story of Elidyr

PBP2014c“The Ellylldan is a species of elf exactly corresponding to the English Will-o’-wisp, the Scandinavian Lyktgubhe, and the Breton Sand Yan y Tad. The Welsh word dan means fire; dan also means a lure; the compound word suggests a luring elf-fire.” – Wirt Sykes, British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions p.19 Continue reading

Are We There Yet? Assessing the Road Ahead

This is my first post for the Cauldron Blog Project, for which the topic is ‘Resolutions, Habits and New Beginnings.’ It’s also my first ‘A’ post for the Pagan Blog Project 2014. (Yes, I’m doing that again! I might not manage two posts per letter, especially since I’m doing two blog projects at once, but we’ll see…)
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I’m very good at saying ‘It’s about the journey, not the destination’. In reality, I’m impatient. I want to get somewhere. I sometimes forget to stop, take stock, and remember that I always am somewhere. Continue reading

R is for… Relationship and Reciprocity

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationship, now that I’m preparing to leave Nottingham for my home town of old Londinium. I’ve only been in Nottingham for three years, but it’s been a busy three years. Although I was considering the whole Pagan thing before I got here, this is really where I got properly into it. Forming a relationship with the land here was challenging, being as how I’m Not From Round Here. Forming relationships with people was even trickier. I’m not great with people, and it takes me a long time to trust them. The surprising exception has been my OBOD grove (see this lovely post that a fellow grove member wrote about me this week!), where I felt very accepted almost immediately. Although it was still work for me to learn to trust a group, I did learn how. My initiation last Samhain was a particularly important experience in that process. I had never really understood the point of initiation until it was my turn, and I was struck by how symbolically meaningful it was for me — perhaps especially because my Asperger’s means I need a solid understanding of where I fit into a group, and it’s often hard for me to establish that for myself. I’m leaving a really great group of people behind – I have some wonderful friendships with many members, and I do hope we won’t lose touch. I plan to gate-crash the odd ritual, when I’m in the area, just so they don’t forget me! And I’m going to miss some other wonderful friends here, too. Continue reading