Archive for October, 2018


October 31, 2018

“Kiselev called information war the most important kind of war. At the receiving end, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party wrote of ‘a war, clearly, but edged on a different kind of battlefield.’ The term was to be taken literally. Carl von Clausewitz, the most famous student of war, defined it as ‘an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.’ What if, as the Russian military doctrine of the 2010s posited, technology made it possible to engage the enemy’s will directly, without the medium of violence? It should be possible as a Russian military planning document of 2013 proposed, to mobilize the ‘protest potential of the population’ against its own interests, or, as the Izborsk Club specified in 2014, to generate in the United States a ‘destructive paranoid reflection. Those are concise and precise descriptions of Trump’s candidacy. The fictional character won, thanks to votes meant as a protest against the system, and thanks to voters who believed paranoid fantasies that simply were not true… The aim of Russian cyberwar was to bring Trump to the Oval Office through what seemed to be normal procedures. Trump did not need need to understand this, any more than an electrical grid has to know when it is disconnected. All that matters is that the lights go out.”

“The Russian FSB and Russian military intelligence (the GRU) both took part in the cyberwar against the United States. The dedicated Russian cyberwar center known as the Internet Research Agency was expanded to include an American Department when in June 2015 Trump announced his candidacy. About ninety new employees went to work on-site in St. Petersburg. The Internet Research Agency also engaged about a hundred American political activists who did not know for whom they were working. The Internet Research Agency worked alongside Russian secret services to move Trump into the Oval Office.”

“It was clear in 2016 that Russians were excited about these new possibilities. That February, Putin’s cyber advisor Andrey Krutskikh boasted: ‘We are on the verge of having something in the information arena that will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.’ In May, an officer of the GRU bragged that his organization was going to take revenge on Hillary Clinton on behalf of Vladimir Putin. In October, a month before the elections, Pervyi Kanal published a long and interesting meditation on the forthcoming collapse of the United States. In June 2017, after Russia’s victory, Putin spoke for himself, saying that he had never denied that Russian volunteers had made cyber war against the United States.”

“In a cyberwar, an ‘attack surface’ is the set of points in a computer program that allow hackers access. If the target of a cyberwar is not a computer program but a society, then the attack surface is something broader: software that allows the attacker contact with the mind of the enemy. For Russian in 2015 and 2016, the American attack surface was the entirety of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google.”

“In all likelihood, most American voters were exposed to Russian Propaganda. It is telling that Facebook shut down 5.8 million fake accounts right before the election of November 2016. These had been used to promote political messages. In 2016, about a million sites on Facebook were using a tool that allowed them to artificially generate tens of millions of ‘likes,’ thereby pushing certain items, often fictions, into the newsfeed of unwitting Americans. One of the most obvious Russian interventions was the 470 Facebook sites placed by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, but purported to be those of American political organizations or movements. Six of these had 340 million shares each of content on Facebook, which would suggest that all of them taken together had billions of shares. The Russian campaign also included at least 129 event pages, which reached at least 336,300 people. Right before the election, Russia placed three thousand advertisements on Facebook, and promoted them as memes across at least 180 accounts on Instagram. Russia could do so without including any disclaimers about who had paid for the ads, leaving Americans with the impression that foreign propaganda was an American discussion. As researchers began to calculate the extent of American exposure to Russian propaganda, Facebook deleted more data. This suggests that the Russian campaign was embarrassingly effective. Later, the company told investors that as many as sixty million accounts were fake.”

“Americans were not exposed to Russian propaganda randomly, but in accordance with their own susceptibility, as revealed by their practices on the internet. People trust what sounds right, and trust permits manipulation. In one variation, people are led towards even more intense outrage about what they already fear or hate. The theme of Muslim terrorism, which Russia had already exploited in France and Germany, was also developed in the United States. In crucial states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, Russia’s ads were targeted at people who could be aroused by anti-Muslim messages. Throughout the United States, likely Trump voters were exposed to pro-Clinton messages on what purported to be American Muslim sites. Russian pro-Trump propaganda associated refugees with rapists. Trump had done the same when announcing his candidacy.”

“Russian attackers used Twitter’s capacity for massive retransmission. Even in normal times on routine subjects, perhaps 10% of Twitter accounts (a conservative estimate) are bots rather than human beings: that is computer programs of greater or lesser sophistication, designed to spread certain messages to a target audience. Though bots are less numerous that humans on Twitter, they are more efficient than humans in sending messages. In the weeks before the election, bots accounted for about 20% of the American conversation about politics. An important scholarly study published the day before the polls opened warned that bots could ‘endanger the integrity of the presidential election.’ It cited three main problems: ‘first, influence can be redistributed across suspicious accounts that may be operated with malicious purposes; second, the political conversation can be further polarized; third, spreading misinformation and unverified information can be enhanced.’ After the election, Twitter identified 2,752 accounts as instruments of Russian political influence. Once Twitter started looking it was able to identify about a million suspicious accounts per day.”

“Bots were initially used for commercial purposes. Twitter has an impressive capacity to influence human behavior by offering deals that seem cheaper or easier than alternatives. Russia took advantage of this. Russian Twitter accounts suppressed the vote by encouraging Americans to ‘text-to-vote,’ which is impossible. The practice was so massive that Twitter, which is very reluctant to intervene in discussions over its platform, finally had to admit its existence in a statement. It seems possible that Russia also digitally suppressed the vote in another way: by making voting impossible in crucial places and times. North Carolina, for example, is a state with a very small Democratic majority, where most Democratic voters are in cities. On Election Day, voting machines in cities ceased to function, thereby reducing the number of votes recorded. The company that produced the machines in question had been hacked by Russian military intelligence, Russia also scanned the electoral websites of at least twenty-one American states, perhaps looking for vulnerabilities, perhaps seeking voter data for influence campaigns. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.

“Having used its Twitter bots to encourage a Leave vote in the Brexit referendum, Russia now turned them loose in the United States. In several hundred cases (at least), the very same bots that worked against the European Union attacked Hillary Clinton. Most of the foreign bot traffic was negative publicity about her. When she fell ill on September 11, 2016, Russian bots massively amplified the case of the event, creating a trend on Twitter under the hashtag #Hillary Down. Russian trolls and bots also moved to support Donald Trump directly at crucial points. Russian trolls and bots praised Donald Trump and the Republican National Convention over Twitter. When Trump had to debate Clinton, which was a difficult moment for him, Russian trolls and bots filled the ether with claims that he had won or that the debate was somehow rigged against him. In crucial swing states that Trump had won, bot activity intensified in the days before the election. On Election Day Itself, bots were firing with the hashtag #WarAgainstDemocrats. After Trump’s victory, at least 1,600 of the same bots that had been working on his behalf went to work agains Macron and for Le Pen in FRance, and against Merkel and for the AfD in Germany. Even at this most basic technical level, the war against the United States was also the war against the European Union.”

“In the United States in 2016, Russia also penetrated email accounts, and then used proxies on Facebook and Twitter to distribute selection that were deemed useful. The hack began when people were sent an email message that asked them to enter their passwords on a linked website. Hackers then used security credentials to access that person’s email account and steal its contents. Someone with knowledge of the American political system then chose what portions of this material the American public should see, and when.”

The hackings of the Democratic convention and wikileaks are well known. The emails that were made public were carefully selected to ensure strife between supporters of Clinton and her rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders. Their release created division at the moment when the campaign was meant to coalesce. With his millions of Twitter followers, Trump was among the most important distribution channels of the Russian hacking operation. Trump also aided the Russian endeavor by shielding it from scrutiny, denying repeatedly that Russia was intervening in the campaign.
Since Democratic congressional committees lost control of private data, Democratic candidates for Congress were molested as they ran for Congress. After their private data were released, American citizens who had given money to he Democratic Party were also exposed to harassment and threats. All this mattered at the highest levels of politics, since it affected one major political party and not the other. “More fundamentally, it was a foretaste of modern totalitarianism is like: no one can act in politics without fear, since anything done now can be revealed later, with personal consequences.”

None who released emails over the internet has anything say about the relationship of the Trump campaign to Russia. “This was a telling omission, since no American presidential campaign was ever so closely bound to a foreign power. The connections were perfectly clear from the open sources. One success of Russia’s cyberwar was the seductiveness of the secret and the trivial drew America away from the obvious and the important: that the sovereignty of the United States was under attack.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder


Trump’s Money Laundry

October 30, 2018

Russia was an unruly country with lots of crime and violence. Putin brought peace to Russia essentially identifying people with power and buying them off with properties, which actually belonged to the citizens of Russia, and parceling them out to these powerful people, most of whom were gangsters. So Putin bought his power by selling public properties to gangsters creating a kleptocracy. The problem with dirty money is that it needs to be cleansed by laundering it. This is effectively done by buying and selling apartment units.

“Russian gangsters began to launder money by buying and selling apartment units in Trump Tower in the 1990s. The most notorious Russian hit man, long sought by the FBI, resided in Trump Tower. Russians were arrested for running a gambling ring from the apartment beneath Trump’s own. In Trump World Tower, constructed between 1999 and 2001 on the east side of Manhattan near the United Nations, a third of the luxury units were bought by people or entities from the former Soviet Union. A man investigated by the Treasury Department for money laundering lived in the Trump World Tower directly beneath Kellyanne Conway, who became the press spokeswoman for the Trump campaign. Seven hundred units of Trump properties in South Florida were purchased by shell companies. Two men associated with those shell companies were convicted of running a gambling and laundering scheme from Trump Tower. Perhaps Trump was entirely unaware of what was happening on his properties.”

“A Russian oligarch bought a house from Trump for $55 million more than Trump had paid for it. The buyer, Dmitry Rybolovlev, never showed any interest in the property and never lived there—but later, when Trump ran for president, “Rybolovlev appeared in places where Trump was campaigning. Trump’s apparent business, real estate development, had become a Russian charge. Having realized that apartment complexes could be used to launder money, Russians used Trump’s name to build more buildings. As Donald Trump said in 2008. ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.’”

“The Russian offers were hard to refuse: millions of dollars up-front for Trump, a share of the profits for Trump, Trumps’s name on a building—but no investment required from Trump. These terms suited both sides. In 2006, citizens of the former Soviet Union financed the construction of Trump SoHo, and gave Trump 18% of the profits—although he put up no money himself. In the case of Felix Sater, the apartments were currency laundromats. A Russian American, Sater worked as senior advisor of the Trump Organization from an office in Trump Tower two floors below Trump’s own. Trump depended upon the Russian money. Sater bought through an entity known as the Bayrock Group. Sater arranged for people from the post-Soviet world to buy apartments using shell companies. From 2007, Sater and Bayrock were helping Trump around the world, cooperating on at least four projects. Some of these failed, but Trump made money regardless.”

“Russia is not a wealthy country, but its wealth is highly concentrated. It is thus common practice for Russians to place someone in their debt by providing easy money and naming the price later. As a candidate for the office of President, Trump broke with decades of tradition by not releasing his tax returns, presumably because they would reveal his profound dependence on Russian capital. Even after he announced his candidacy for the office of president, in June 2015, Trump was pursuing risk-free deals with the Russians. In October 2015, near the time of a Republican presidential debate, he signed a letter of intent to have Russians build a tower in Moscow and put his name on it. He took to Twitter to announce that ‘Putin loves Donald Trump.’”

“The final deal never went through, perhaps because it would have made the Russian sources of Trump’s apparent success just a bit too obvious at the moment when his presidential campaign was gaining momentum. The fictional character ‘Donald Trump, successful businessman’ had more important things to do. In the words of Felix Sater writing in November 2015, ‘Our boy can become president of the United States and we can engineer.’ In 2016, just when Trump needed money to run a campaign, his properties became extremely popular for shell companies. In the half year between his nomination as the Republican candidate and his victory in the general election, some 70% of the units sold in his buildings were purchased not by human beings, but by limited liability companies.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

The Realization of Alexander Hamilton’s Fear

October 29, 2018

“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?

By the late 1990s, Trump was clearly uncreditworthy and bankrupt. “He owed about four billion dollars to more than seventy banks, of which some $800 million was personally guaranteed. He never showed any inclination or capacity to pay back this debt. After his 2004 bankruptcy, no American bank would lend him money. The only bank that did so was Deutsche Bank, whose colorful history of scandal belied its staid name. Interestingly, Deutsche Bank also laundered about $10 billion for Russian clients between 2011 and 2015. Interestingly, Trump declined to pay back his debts to Deutsche Bank.”

“Trump’s advance to the Oval Office had three stages, each of which depended upon American vulnerability and required American cooperation. First, Russians had to transform a failed real estate developer into a recipient of their capital. Second this failed real estate developer had to portray, on American television, a successful businessman. Finally, Russia intervened with purpose and success to support the fictional character ‘Donald Trump, successful businessman’ in the 2016 presidential election.”

Putin’s grandest campaign was a cyberwar to destroy the United States of America. “For reasons having to do with American inequality, Russian oligarchy won an extraordinary victory in 2016. Because it did, inequality became a still greater America problem.”

“The rise of Donald Trump was the attack by ‘these most deadly adversaries of republican government that Alexander Hamilton had feared. Russian leaders openly and exuberantly backed Trump’s candidacy. Throughout 2016, Russian elites said with a smile that ‘Trump is our president.’ Dmitry Kislev, the leading man of the Russian media, rejoiced that ‘a new star is rising—Trump!’ Alexei Sushkov, the chair of the foreign relations committee of the lower house of the Russian parliament, expressed the general hope that ‘Trump can lead the Western locomotive right off the rails.’ Some Russians tried to alert Americans: Andrei Kozyrev, a former foreign minister, explained that Putin ‘realizes that Trump will trample democracy and damage if not destroy America as a pillar of stability and major force able to contain him.’”

“The Russian media machine was at work on Trump’s behalf. As a Russian journalist explained: ‘we were given very clear instructions: to show Donald Trump in a positive way, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a negative way.’ The Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik used the #crookedhillary hashtag on Twitter—a gesture of respect and support for Trump, since the phrase was his—and also associated Clinton with nuclear war. Trump appeared on RT to complain that the U.S. media was untruthful, which for RT was the perfect performance: its (RT) entire reason for being was to expose the single truth that everyone lied, and here was an American saying the same thing.”

“When Trump won the presidential election that November, he was applauded in the Russian parliament. Trump quickly telephone Putin to be congratulated. Kislev, the leading man of the Russian media, celebrated Trump as the return of manhood to politics on his Sunday evening program, ‘Vesti Nedeli.’ He was pleased that ‘the words democracy and human rights are not in the vocabulary of Trump.’ Describing a meeting of Trump and Obama, KIselev claimed that Obama was ‘waving his arms, as if he were in the jungle.’ In his commentary on Trump’s inauguration, Kislev said that Michelle Obama looked like the hoVesti Nedeli


“‘Donald Trump, successful businessman, was not a person. It was a fantasy born in the strange climate where the downdraft of the American politics of eternity, its fettered capitalism, met the rising hydrocarbon fumes of the Russian politics of eternity, its kleptocratic authoritarianism. Russians raised ‘a creature of their own’ to the presidency of the United States. Trump was the payload of a cyberweapon, meant to create chaos and weakness, as in fact he has done.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder


October 28, 2018

This post is based on Timothy Snyder’s book, “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.” When the Soviet Union existed it was a Communist nation and was regarded as being on the extreme liberal left. Under Putin, Russia has become a Fascist nation on the extreme right. So it is ironic that the Republican Party that once was strongly anti-communist, has nominated a presidential candidate who was chosen by Putin as the best person to lead the United States. Now this presidential candidate, who was clearly aided by Russia in his campaign, is joined in a mutual admiration union with Putin. And many Republicans are trying to frustrate, if not end, the investigation into Trump and Russia. This is an age of toxic irony.

Fascism is a troubling phenomenon. Germany and Italy were Fascist countries the allies fought and defeated during WW2. Fascism is a strongly authoritarian ideology. As a result of the Nazis an F (for Fascism) Scale was developed, that essentially measured the strength of an authoritarian personality. Two characteristics of Fascism are anti-semitism and a hatred of homosexuality. HM has difficulty understanding the basis of anti-semitism. The justifications for it are clearly fabricated done just to provide the basis for hatred. Actually, HM is grateful to Jews for their many contributions to the arts, science, and humor, just to mention a few. However, HM does think he understands, at least partly, the basis for the hatred of homosexuals. This hatred is found in both the religious right and Fascists. Being a cynical psychologist, who is not a clinician, HM suspects that latent homosexuality is the basis for most of this hatred. Unknowingly, they fear their latent homosexuality and project this on others. The stronger the fear, the greater the hatred. This conjecture occurs to HM whenever he sees Putin without his shirt.

Readers are encouraged to read Snyder’s “The Road to Unfreedom: Russian, Europe, and America. It outlines Putin’s goals to break up Europe into a Russian state Europa. Brexit was a successful effort to this end. He is encouraging right wing parties in the Europe and these parties are gaining increasing strength. Similarly, he is trying to break up the United States into vassal states that will support Russia. He does this by sowing dissension in these countries by various means, but primarily by social media.

Putin was extremely upset when the Ukraine, that was part of the Soviet Union, wanted to join the European Union. He invaded militarily the eastern part of the Ukraine that was largely Russian. However, the remainder of the Ukraine resisted his military efforts so that roughly two-thirds of the Ukraine remained free. During this time HM was able to view RT and saw the splendid propaganda Russian produced. It is so slick that it appears to be news, although the central message was propaganda. At the point of this writing, the situation remains a stalemate. So it appears that Putin can be contained, but Putin’s motives and means must clearly be recognized. All of this is described in Snyder’s book as well as Putin’s other efforts in Europe.

Even Putin’s efforts in the United States can only be touched on in the future posts. Much more of the text of “The Road to Unfreedom: will be copied directly. These portions will be indicated in quotes. Trying to paraphrase would only dilute the message Snyder is excellently communicating.

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America

October 27, 2018

There is an earlier healthy memory blog post titled, “Fascism in on the March Again: Blame the Internet.’ It was based on an Outlook article in the Washington Post by Timothy Snyder. The article motivated HM to get the book by Timothy Snyder with the title of the current post. However, HM became bogged down in the communist philosophy of the former Soviet Union and now of Russia. These ideological readings do not cite data, but rather state causes of different political conditions and propose ad hoc and convoluted ideological arguments. It was like reading page after page of ideological nonsense.

Fortunately, the passage of time gave HM a second wind and he reengaged. And he is glad he did. He now has a very good understanding of the world we are in that is extremely relevant. There has also been a polar shift in ideologies.

The Soviet Union was a communist country. Americans and others in the free world who gravitated towards communism were regarded as fellow travelers, and if they went the entire way they were communists. These people were on the political left.

The new Russia is technically not a communist country. Although it might have the outward appearance of a democracy, Putin has turned it into a fascist kleptocracy.
The left no longer supports Russia. Western supporters of Russia are from the political right. As the title of the book implies the goal of Putin is to lead Europe and the United States down the road to unfreedom. The goal is to break up Europe into a Russian state Europa. And goal is to break up the United States and make it a fascist client state of Russia.

And it is clear that Putin is achieving his goals. He tried to influence the vote in which Scotland would become free of England and failed, but he was successful in influencing Brexit breaking England from continental Europe. The political right is exercising its strength against central governments in Europe. It uses information warfare as it has and is still doing in the United States. A major objective is to increase internal dissension by exacerbating identity politics and political beliefs. It also promotes its candidates as it successfully did in the United States. And it is successfully influencing one political party to go against the rule of law and attack its own government institutions such as the Department of Justice.

Donald Trump is working directly from the Russian fascist playbook. The charge of false news is one technique. Russia was also first to claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and could not legally become President of the United States. Six more posts on this topic will follow directly.

Growing Pains for a New Democracy

October 26, 2018

That new democracy is Bhutan and it’s wedged between India and China. Bhutan is famed for its stunning scenery and devotion to the principle of Gross National Happiness. There have been many previous Healthymemory blog posts on Gross National Happiness.

Bhutan had a rather unique path to democracy. Instead of voters rising up to fight for the right to elect their leaders, the country’s revered king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, initiated the process of drafting a democratic constitution. This constitution has some atypical features. Buddhist monks, nuns and other clergy are not allowed to vote on the logic that they should remain outside politics. No campaigning is allowed after 6 p.m. Candidates found “defaming” their opponents or straying into certain sensitive topics—such as Bhutan’s oppressively close relationship with India—face fines or reprimands.

Sounds wonderful. So what could possibly go wrong? Dorji Penjore, of the Center for Bhutan, noted that the last survey of the nation in 2015, showed a decrease in two of the nine indicators used to measure Gross National Happiness—psychological well-being and community vitality.

Two reasons have been provided for these problems. Both of which should be familiar to those of us in the US. One problem is social media. Apparently, the election rules were violated over social media and became pretty ugly. The second was party politics.

These two problems are plaguing us in the US. Much has been written about social media, and efforts are being attempted to try to reign in that problem. The second problem, which is not mentioned as much as it should be, is party politics.

According to the US Constitution each of the three branches of government, executive, judicial, and legislative are to provide checks on each other. Unfortunately, all three branches are under the control of the same party. Rather than checking the executive branch, the legislative branch is not only protecting an ill-behaved executive branch, but it is also attacking standing government institutions such as the Department of Justice.

The US Constitution is regarded by many as being sacrosanct. Indeed, one of the qualifying beliefs many have for Supreme Court Justices is that they be Originalists, meaning that they interpret the Constitution as it was understood when it was written. Previous healthy memory blog posts have pointed out that the Constitution as written is both misogynistic and racist. Attempts have been made to eliminate or mitigate these problems, but the fact that party politics could corrupt the vigilance each branch of government was to have on the other was not anticipated.

HM remembers reading that there were founding fathers who feared party politics. HM’s memory informs him that two of these were George Washington and John Adams. It is hard to see how politics would operate without political parties. But there appears to be a need to either eliminate or to mitigate the effectiveness of political parties, or to modify the US Constitution to protect its vulnerability from political parties.

Part of this post was base on the article by Joanna Slatter, “In tiny Bhutan, known for its pursuit of happiness, democracy brings discontent” in the 19 October 2018 issue of the Washington Post.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


October 25, 2018

HM was disappointed in Wolf’s “READER COME HOME” as hypertext was not addressed except in passing in a note to a journal article titled, “Why Don’t We Read Hypertext Novels?” HM sees enormous potential in hypertext. In scientific reading links can be provided to the references and notes in the text. Unfortunately, the financing of academic and professional texts and journals makes the seamless operation of this capability difficult. Professional organizations and publishers need to recognize that their primary job, and this is certainly true of professional organizations, is to disseminate information about their disciplines. There is a demand for hypertext here and the free moving to different texts. It is hope that in the future this demand will eventually be realized once means of remuneration and compensation are identified.

HM would be interested to read “Why Don’t We Read Hypertext Novels?” One reason might be that there are so few, if any, of them. But there is a need here, unless authors feel compelled to shove everything they’ve written down the throats of their readers. There could be links providing more information on characters and background. There could be digressive passages that a reader might want to have the option of reading or skipping. If passages are not interesting to certain readers, they either skim them or give up on the book.

From an author’s perspective hypertext offers the option to expand views and to write one document to different levels of readers. One text could be written for beginning, intermediate, and advanced learners that would provide a coherent path through one’s learning.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Concluding Letters

October 24, 2018

What struck HM about the concluding letters (chapters in Wolf’s parlance) in “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf was that they were not especially unique to digital media. They applied generally to reading and education.

One letter was titled “Between Two and Five Years: When Language and Thought Take Flight Together.” The most important point in this chapter is to read to your children. This goes beyond reading to the building of intimacy and rapport with your children. And it will fill them with the wonder of books, be that in print or digital. Some of HM’s favorite childhood memories are of his mother reading to him. She read many items some of which were “Peter Pan,” “Tom Sawyer,” and sports books by Claire Bee featuring Chip Hilton. The wonder that these abstract characters on a background yielded such interesting and entertaining stories that stimulated the mind to create images of the stories. So when reading was the subject at school, HM was a highly motivated student.

Another letter is titled “The Science and Poetry in Learning (and teaching to Read). True there are necessary adaptions for digital material, some yet to be identified, and these are important subjects. Moreover, science is involved in addressing the questions raised by digital media. Relevant sections titles are ‘Investment in Early, Ongoing Assessment of Students,” “Investment in Our Teachers,” and “Investment in the Teaching of Reading Across the School Years.”

Another letter is titled “Building a Biliterate Brain.” “Biliterate” here refers to being literate in both conventional and digital media. But this is what the entire text addresses, and it should not be thought that everything is known about conventional media. True, the ignorance is greater on the digital side, and the genius is combining so there is a synergy between the two. Research is needed. There needs to be professional training and development, and it is important that there be equal access regardless of the financial resources of the schools.

The final letter is titled “Reader, Come Home,” which again extols the virtues of reading and thinking.

The Raising of Children in a Digital Age

October 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a letter in “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. Wolf refers to her chapters as letters. Wolf writes: “The tough questions raised in the previous letters come to roost like chickens on a fence in the raising of our children. They require of us a developmental version of the issues summarized to this point: Will time-consuming, cognitively demanding deep-reading processes atrophy or be gradually lost within a culture whose principle mediums advantage speed, immediacy, high levels of stimulation, multitasking and large amount of information?”

She continues, “Loss, however, in this question implies the existence of a well-formed, fully elaborated circuitry. The reality is that each new reader—that is, each child—must build a wholly new reading circuit. Our children can form a very simple circuit for learning to read and acquire a basic level of decoding, or they can go on to develop highly elaborated reading circuits that add more and more sophisticated intellectual processes over time.”

These not-yet-formed reading circuits present unique challenges and a complex set of questions: First, will the early-developing cognitive components of the reading circuit be altered by digital media before, while, and after children learn to read. What will happen to the development of their attention, memory, and background knowledge—processes known to be be affected in adults by multitasking, rapidity, and distraction? Second, if they are affected, will such changes alter the makeup of the resulting expert reading circuit and/or the motivation to form and sustain deep reading capacities? Finally, what can we do to address the potential negative effects of varied digital media on reading without losing their immensely positive contributions to children and to society?

The digital world grabs children. A 2015 RAND study reported the average amount of time spent by three-to-five year old children on digital devices was four hours a day, with 75% of children from zero to eight years old having access to digital devices. This figure is up from 52% only two years earlier. The use of digital devices increased by 117% in just one year. Our evolutionary reflex, the lovely bias pulls our attention immediately toward anything new. The neuroscientist Daniel Levitin says, “Humans will work just as hard to obtain a novel experience as we will to get a meal or a mate…In multitasking, we unknowingly enter an addiction loop as the brain’s novelty centers become rewarded for processing tiny new stimuli, to the detriment of our prefrontal cortex, which wants to stay on task and gain the rewards of sustained effort attention. We need to train ourselves to go for the long reward and forgo the short one.”

Levitin claims that children can become so accustomed to a continuous stream of competitors for their attention that their brains are for all purposes being bathed in hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones more commonly associated with fight, flight, and stress. Children three, or four, or sometimes even two and younger—but they are first passively receiving and then, ever so gradually requiring the levels of stimulation of much older children on a regular basis.

The Stanford University neuroscientist Poldrack and his team has found that some digitally raised youth can multitask if they have been trained sufficiently on one of the tasks. Unfortunately, not enough information is reported to evaluate this claim, other than to leave it open and look to further research to see how these skills can develop.

Wolfe raises legitimate concerns. Much research is needed. But the hope is that damaging effects can be eliminated or minimized. Perhaps even certain types of training with certain types of individuals can be done to minimize the costs of multitasking.

Digital Media and the Loss of Quality Information

October 22, 2018

To put matters in perspective before proceeding it is useful to remember that Socrates saw dangers in the printed word. He believed that knowledge needed to be resident in the brain and not on physical matter. He thought that the printed word would result in going to hell in a hand basket (Be clear that he did not say this, but he did see it as a definite potential danger). So this new digital world has much to offer, but also has dangers, and we need to avoid these dangers.

Frank Schirrmacher placed the origins of the conflict without our species’ need to be instantly aware of every new stimulus, what some call our novelty bias. Hyper vigilance toward the environment has definite survival value. It is virtually certain that this reflect saved many of our prehistoric ancestors from threats signaled by the barely visible tracks of deadly tigers or the soft susurrus of venomous snakes in the underbrush. Unfortunately experts in”persuasion design” principles know very well how to exploit these tendencies.

Wolf writes, “As Schirrmacher described it, the problem is that contemporary environments bombard us constantly with new sensory stimuli, as we split our attention across multiple digital devices most of our days, as often as not, nights shortened by our attention to them. A recent study by Time, Inc. of the media habits of people in their twenties indicated that they switched media sources twenty-seven times an hour. On average they now check their cell phones between 150 and 190 times a day, As a society we’re continuously distracted by our environment, and our very wiring as ominous aids and abets this. We do not see or hear the same quality of attention, because we see and hear too much, become habituated, and then seek still more.

Enter “The Distracted Mind” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find many more relevant posts on this topic. There are clearly two distinct components to this problem: Staying plugged in and the volume and quality of information.

Unfortunately, Wolf does not directly address the topic of being plugged in, but this problem needs to be addressed first before significant progress can be made on the second. Being constantly plugged in precludes one from making any progress on this problem. There are simply too many disruptions and distractions. So one either unplugs cold turkey and remains that way, either only plugging in to communicate or strictly limiting the time one is plugged in. Clearly there are social implications here, so one needs to explain to one’s friends and acquaintances why one is doing this and try to persuade them to join you for their own benefit.

Next one can deal with the volume of communications. Wolf notes that the average amount of communication consumed by us is 34 gigabytes. Moreover, this is characterized by one spasmodic burst after another. Barack Obama has said he is worried that for many of our young, information has become “a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather a tool of empowerment, rather than a means of emancipation.”

The literature professor Mark Edmundson writes, “Swimming in entertainment, my students have been sealed off from the chance to call everything they’ve valued into question, to look at new ways of life…For them, education is knowing and lordly spectatorship, never the Socratic dialogue about how one ought to live one’s life.”

Wolf writes, “What do we do with the cognitive overload from multiple gigabytes of information from multiple devices? First, we simplify. Second we process the information as rapidly as possible: more precise, we read more in briefer bursts. Third, we triage. We stealthily begin the insidious trade-off between our need to know with our need to save and gain time. Sometimes we outsource our intelligence to the information outlets that offer the fastest, simplest most digestible distillations of information we no longer want to think about ourselves.”

This post is based in part on “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. She does discuss how she managed to discipline herself and break these bad habits, although she doesn’t mention the importance of the first necessary act to unplug oneself.

Then one needs to decide that technology is a tool one should use to benefit oneself rather than letting technology drives one life. Realize that we humans have finite attentional resources and prioritize what sources and types of technology should be used to pursue specific goals. These will change over time as will goals, but one should always have goals, perhaps as simple as learning something about x. If that is rewarding, one can pursue it further, move off to related areas, or to completely new areas. The objective should always be to use technology, not be used by technology, for personal fulfillment.

This post will close with a quote from Susan Sontag:
“To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention…The nature of moral judgments depends on our capacity for paying attention, has its limits, but whose limits can be stressed.”

And one from Herman Hesse’s essay “The Magic of the Book:’
“Among the many worlds which man did not receive as a gift of nature, but which he created with his own spirit, the world of books is the greatest. Every child, scrawling his first letters on his slate and attempting to read for the first time, in so doing, enters an artificial and most complicated world: to know the laws and rules of this world completely and to practice them perfectly, no single human life is long enough. Without words, without writing, and without books thee would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is Deep Reading Endangered by Technology?

October 21, 2018

This post is based on “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. MIT scholar Sherry Turkle described a study by Sara Konrath and her research group at Stanford University that showed a 40% decline in empathy in young people over the last two decades. The most precipitous decline occurred in the last ten years. Turkle attributes the loss of empathy largely to their inability to navigate the online world without losing track of their real-time, face-to-face relationships. Turkle thinks that our technologies place us at a remove, which changes not only who we are as individuals but also who we are with one another. Wolf writes, “The act of taking on the perspective and feelings of others is one of the most profound, insufficiently heralded contributions of the deep-reading process.”

Barack Obama described novelist Marilynne Robinson as a “specialist in empathy.” Obama visited Robinson during his presidency. During their wide-ranging discussion, Robinson lamented what she saw as a political drift among many people in the United States toward seeing those different from themselves as the “sinister other.” She characterized this as “dangerous a development as there could be in terms of whether we continue to be a democracy.” Whether writing about humanism’s decline or fear’s capacity to diminish the very values its proponents purport to defend, Ms Robinson conceptualized the power of books to help us understand the perspective of others as an antidote to the fears and prejudices many people harbor, often unknowingly. Within this context Obama told Robinson that the most important things he had learned about being a citizen came from novels. “It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And that it’s possible to connect with someone else even thought they’re very different from you.”

It is most insightful that the polarization that is being experienced, is due in large part to missing empathy, which to some degree, perhaps large is due to digital screen technology. Although technology has been blamed for much, part of the problem here is not just the display mode of information, but also the type of content of the information. Quality fiction builds empathy. Even technical reading can build empathy provided the content can be related to the feelings and thinking of others. And some social research does summarize the feelings and thinking of others.

Wolf writes, “There are many things that would be lost if we slowly lose the cognitive patience to immerse ourselves in the worlds created by books and the lives and feelings of the “friends” who inhabit them. And although it is a wonderful thing that movies and film can do some of this, too, there is a difference in the quality of immersion that is made possible by entering the articulated thoughts of others. What will happen to young readers who never meet and begin to understand the thought and feelings of someone totally different? What will happen to older readers who begin to lose touch with that feeling of empathy for people outside their ken or kin? It is a formula for unwitting ignorance, fear and misunderstanding, that can lead to the belligerent forms of intolerance that are the opposite of America’s original goals for its citizens of many cultures.”

Deep reading involves more than empathy. Wolf writes, “The consistent strengthening of the connections among our analogical, inferential, empathic, and background knowledge processes generalize well beyond reading. When we learn to connect these processes over and over in our reading, it becomes easier to apply them to our own lives, teasing apart our motives and intentions and understanding with ever perspicacity and, perhaps, wisdom, why others think and feel the way they do. Not only is it the basis for the compassionate side of empathy, but it also contributes to strategic thinking.

Just as Obama noted, however, these strengthened processes do not come without work and practice, nor do they remain static if unused. From start to finish, the basic neurological principle—“Use it or lost it”— is true for each deep-reading process. More important still, this principle holds for the whole plastic reading-brain circuit. Only if we continuously work to develop and use our complex analogical and inferential skills will the neural networks underlying them sustain our capacity to be thoughtful, critical analysts of knowledge, rather than passive consumers of information.”

Mark Edmunson asks in his book “Why Read,” “What exactly is critical thinking?” He explains that it includes the power to examine and potentially debunk personal beliefs and convictions. Then he asks, “What good is this power of critical thought if you do not yourself believe something and are not open to having this belief modified? What’s called critical thought generally takes place from no set position at all.”

Edmonson articulates two connected, insufficiently discussed threats to critical thinking. The first threat comes when any powerful framework for understanding our world (such as a political or religious view) becomes so impenetrable to change and so rigidly adhered to that it obfuscates any divergent type of thought, even when the latter is evidence-based or morally based.

The second effect that Edmunson observes is the total absence of any developed personal belief system in many of our young people, who either do not know enough about past systems of thought (for example, Freud, Darwin, or Chomsky) or who are too impatient to examine and learn from them. As a result, their ability to learn the kind of critical thinking necessary for deeper understanding can become stunted, Intellectual rudderlessness and adherence to a way of thought that allows no question are threats to critical thinking in us all.

It is also important to be aware that Deep Reading has a generative process. Here is a quote from Jonah Lehrer—“An insight is a fleeting glimpse of the brain’s huge store of unknown knowledge. The cortex is sharing one of its secrets.”

Wolf writes, “Insight is the culmination of the multiple modes of exploration we have brought to bear on what we have read thus far: the information harvested from the text; the connections to our best thoughts and feelings; the critical conclusions gained; and then the uncharted leap into a cognitive space where we may upon occasion glimpse whole new thoughts. The formation of the reading-brain circuit is a unique epigenetic achievement in the intellectual history of our species. Within this circuit, deep reading significantly changes what we perceive, what we feel, and what we know and in so doing alters, informs, and elaborates the circuit itself.”

Neuroscience informs us that creativity is everywhere based on brain imaging and recording. There is no neat map of what occurs when we have our most creative bursts of thinking. Instead, it appears that we activate multiple regions of the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate gyrus.

Print vs. Screen or Digital Media

October 20, 2018

What is most bothersome about “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf is the way she contrasts print media versus the new screen or digital media. Readers might mistakenly think that the solution to this problem is to use print media and eschew screen or digital media. The reality is that in the future this might be impossible as conventional print media might be found only in museums or special libraries. But what is key to understanding is that unfortunate habits tend to develop when using screen/digital media. Moreover, the unfortunate habits are the result of a feeling of needing to be plugged in with digital media. It is these habits, skimming, superficial processing, and multi-tasking that are the true culprits here.

These same practices can be found using print matter and they are not always bad. Reading the newspaper, in either print or digital form, HM’s attention is dictated by his interests. Initially he is skimming, but when he finds something interesting he focuses his attention and reads deeply. If it turns out that he already knows the material, or that the material is a bunch of crap. He resumes skimming. This is the reason he does not like televised news since it includes material he would like to ignore or skip over. HM finds it annoying that the phrase “Breaking News” is frequently heard. Frankly, he would prefer “Already considered and processed news.” Unless there is a natural catastrophe or some imminent danger, there is no reason the news can’t wait for further context under which it can be processed.

Frankly, HM would never have been able to complete his Ph.D, had he not developed this ability. His work is interdisciplinary, so he must read in different areas. He skims until he finds relevant material. Then he focuses and quizzes himself to assure he is acquiring the relevant material. Sometimes this might be a matter of bookmarking it with the goal of returning when there would be sufficient time to process the material. Even if the topic is one with which he is familiar, he will assess whether there is anything new that requires his attention. There is simply too much material and too little time. Strategies need to be employed. The risk from current technology is that the technology is driving the process rather than the individual using the technology effectively.

We are not victims of technology unless we passively allow ourselves to become victims of technology. Students need to be taught how to use the technology and what practices need to be abandoned. One of these is being continually plugged in, but there are also social issues that need to be addressed.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A View of the Reading Brain

October 19, 2018

This post is taken from “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. Please excuse the detail, but it is important to gain an appreciation of what is involved in reading. The brain’s design is with the principle of “plasticity within limits.” The brain is able to go beyond its original biological functions—like vision and language—to develop biologically unknown capacities such as reading and numeracy. To do so, it forms a new set of pathways by connecting and sometimes repurposing its older and more basic structures. Faced with something new to learn, the human brain not only rearranges its original parts, but is also able to refit some of its existing neuronal groups in those same areas to accommodate the particular needs of the new function. The brain recycles and even repurposes neuronal networks for skills that are cognitive or perceptually related to the new one, Wolf writes, “This ability to form newly recycled circuits enables us to learn all manner of genetically unplanned-for activities—from making the first wheel, to learning the alphabet, to surfing the net while listening to Coldplay and sending tweets. None of the activities is hardwired or has genes specifically dedicated to its development; they are cultural inventions that involved cortical takeovers.” As there is no genetic blueprint for reading, there is no one ideal reading circuit. There can be different ones.

In addition to neuroplasticity, there is the concept of cell assemblies formulated by the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb. The concept is that cells that fire together wire together. These specialist groups build the networks that allow us to see the smallest features of a letter or hear the tiniest elements in the sounds of language, literally in milliseconds. Cell specialization enables each working group of neurons to become automatic in its specific region and to become virtually automatic in its connections to the other groups or networks in the reading circuit. For reading to occur, there must be sonic-speed automaticity for neuronal networks at a local level, which, in turn, allows for equally rapid connections across entire structural expanses of the brain. So, whenever we name even a single letter, we are activating entire networks of specific neuronal groups in the visual cortex, which correspond to entire networks of equally specific language-based cell groups, which correspond to networks of specific articulatory-motor cell groups—all with millisecond precision. Multiply this scenario a hundredfold when the task is to depict what you are doing when reading with complete (or even incomplete) attention and comprehension of the meanings involved.

“In essence, the combination of these principles forms the basis of what few of us would ever suspect: a reading circuit that incorporates input from the two hemispheres, four lobes in each hemisphere (frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital) and all five layers of the brain (from the uppermost telencephalon and adjacent diencephalon below it; to the middle layers of the mesencephalon; to the lower levels of the mesencephalon and myelencephalon).” So anyone who still believes that we use only a tiny portion of our brains hasn’t yet become aware of what we do when we read.


October 18, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of an important book by Maryanne Wolf. The subtitle is “The Reading Brain in the Digital World.” Any new technology offers benefits, but it may also contain dangers. There definitely are benefits from moving the printed world into the digital world. But there are also dangers, some of which are already quite evident. One danger is the feeling that one always needs to be plugged in. There is even an acronym for this FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). But there are costs to being continually plugged in. One is superficial processing. One of the best examples of this is of the plugged-in woman who was asked what she thought of OBAMACARE. She said that she thought it was terrible and was definitely against it. However, when she was asked what she thought of the Affordable Care Act, she said that she liked it and was definitely in favor of it. Of course, the two are the same.

This lady was exhibiting an effect that has a name, the Dunning-Krueger effect. Practically all of us think we know more than we do. Ironically, people who are quite knowledgeable about a topic are aware of their limitations and frequently qualify their responses. So, in brief, the less you know the more you think you know, but the more you know, the less you think you know. Moreover, this effect is greatly amplified in the digital age.

There is a distinction between what is available in our memories and what is accessible in our memories. Very often we are unable to remember something, but we do know that it is present in memory. So this information is available, but not accessible. There is an analogous effect in the cyber world. We can find information on the internet, but we need to look it up. It is not available in our personal memory. Unfortunately, being able to look something up on the internet is not identical to having the information available in our personal memories so that we can extemporaneously talk about the topic. We daily encounter the problem of whether we need to remember some information or whether it would be sufficient to look it up. We do not truly seriously understand something until it is available in our personal memories. The engineer Kurtzweil is planning on extending his life long enough so the he can be uploaded to a computer, thus achieving a singularity with technology. Although he is a brilliant engineer, he is woefully ignorant of psychology and neuroscience. Digital and neural codes differ and the processing systems differ, so the conversion is impossible. However, even if it were understanding requires deep cognitive and biological processing. True understanding does not come cheaply.

Technology can be misused and it can be very tempting to misuse technology. However, there are serious costs. Maryanne Wolf discusses the pitfalls and the benefits of technology. It should be understood that we are not victims of technology. Rather we need to use technology not only so that we are not victims, but also so we use technology synergistically.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Elusive Experience as Intuition

October 14, 2018

This post is based, in part, on the work by Boyer Pascal titled “Minds Make Societies.” Pascal writes, “To understand modern forms of religious activity, we must consider another recent invention—the connection between religious beliefs and personal experience. In many modern movements, participants assume that religious activity should trigger a special kind of experience, entirely distinct from ordinary conscious activity, that these experiences carry important meaning, that they are crucial for a proper understanding of religious doctrines. Long before these recent developments, scholars in the the study of religions, mostly in the West, for a long time argued that religious experience was quite special. William James, the founder of modern psychology, also assumed that the nature of these exceptional experiences would be fundamental to understanding the emergence and development of doctrines and cults.”

Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann did a thorough study of a group of American evangelical Christians in an attempt to study these elusive experiences. These evangelicals practice a specific version of mainstream Christianity with a clearly articulated belief that God can talk to them.

Luhrmann found that the definite intuition that an agent is around, that this agent really is God, that God is talking, is a rare occurrence and a frustratingly elusive one. She found that even among the most accomplished of believers a few islands of experience are surrounded by oceans of doubt and disbelief. Although Christian beliefs are held with fervor, the crucial elements, the presence and communication from a superhuman agent, are described as goals to achieve rather than a starting point. Many evangelicals readily admit they have not (or not yet) reached that point—it will take them more work. These evangelicals are to be commended for their honesty.

One of the reasons these Evangelicals are having so much difficulty is by spurning all the devices that people the world over have used. They do not want to open their minds to the deity though the medium of drugs, starvation, meditation, hyperventilation, or the hypnotic repetition of mantras. So the experience desired turns out to be so infrequent, ambiguous, and elusive. As you should note from previous posts, HM believes that meditation is perhaps the best means of establishing a relationship with God.

Although these evangelicals are honest in their beliefs, they have strayed from they key concept in effective religions, the soul. As a result they are unknowingly causing unnecessary pain and suffering in the world. Perhaps the least of which is contributing to the election of the antithesis of a Christian, Donald Trump. These evangelicals want to make abortion illegal, so Trump, who likely has financed abortions, promised to propose judges for the Supreme Court to bring this about.

Their argument is that biological life is being destroyed and lives are lost. But biological life is irrelevant. The soul is not destroyed, and that is what is key. Previous healthymemory blog posts have shown that what is essential for a healthy and happy child is for the mother to want and to love her child. [See the Healthymemory Blog Posts “The Damage Done by Forcibly Separating Children from Parents,” and “Turning on Genes in the Brain’[ When this requirement is not satisfied, developmental problems result. It is reasonable to think that many, if not most, of the disturbing events one reads about every day are the result of an unloved child. This is damaging not only to the mother and the child, but also to the community. A just and merciful God does not want this to happen. Consequently, this God would save the soul of the future child until a more loving mother became available. So rather than outlaw abortion, abortion should be encouraged unless the prospective mother wants to love and nurture the child.

There is nothing in scriptures to justify this belief of the evangelicals. But rather than pursue the work of Christ, helping the sick and the impoverished, they engage in these self-righteous political crusades. Every other advanced country in the world provides government paid health insurance to all its citizens. But evangelicals along with other nonbearing citizens do not tend to support this type of political activity. Consequently, the United States suffers from both extravagant medical costs producing results characteristic of third world countries.

In addition to being ignorant of the importance of souls, these Evangelicals do not understand the concept of religious freedom embedded in the Constitution. One can follow any religion, including atheism, in the United Stated. Unfortunately, some evangelicals and other religious groups are trying to enforce their religious beliefs on others. Abortion provides a good example. So if one thinks that abortion is immoral and should not be allowed, they are free to not practice abortion. But it is unconstitutional for them to impose that belief on others.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Organized Religions

October 13, 2018

This post is based largely on the work by Boyer Pascal titled “Minds Make Societies.” As was noted an earlie post, “God & Homo Sapiens” the earliest humans had the notion of a soul from which the notion of God emerged. Formal religions appeared only with the development of large-scale state societies. Pascal writes, “Notions of souls and salvation are a hallmark of what the philosopher Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age, the period between 600 BCE and 100 CE when rather similar forms of religious doctrine appeared in China, India, and the Mediterranean. These new movements emphasized cosmic justice, the notion that the world overall should be fair.” These religions were interested in human morality, and these ideas came with all sorts of personal techniques or disciplines to do with moderation, self-discipline, and withdrawal from excessive greed and competitiveness. Pascal writes, “That is the case, despite obvious differences, with Buddhism, Jainism, and various forms of reformed Hinduism in northern India; of Taoism and Confucianism in China; and of Orphism, Second Temple Judaism, Christianity, and Stoicism in the Mediterranean.

Pascal continues, “The cultivation of the soul is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of these movements, which in very different cultures seemed to recommend very similar attitudes, notably moderate consumption, restraint from sexual excess, and the pursuit of a ‘good life’ characterized by self-discipline and respect for others. The ‘Meditations’ of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, inspired by the Stoic writings, provide a good example of that particular wisdom, which echoes in the Analects of Confucius, most Buddhist texts, and many other writings of the time.”

Pascal continuing on, “To many people in modern societies, this view of the soul as the core of the person, in need of grace or redemption, would seem to be the core of religions. Even people who are otherwise indifferent to religious doctrines see the notion of the soul as crucial to spiritual life. So the Axial Age matters because the movements that appeared at that point in history had a considerable influence on subsequent religions. Indeed, the so-called world religions of today are all descendants of these movements.”

What is difficult to understand is that these religions appear to provide the basis for leading moral lives and caring about one another. That being the case, reality has been harsh, with all types of evil doing up to the point of warfare. Religions ended up fighting each other to the point that within Christianity, different sects fought and killed each other as they did in Islam.

There will be more about this in the following post. However, the reality is that religions, although claiming to speak with the authority of God, are really temporal political entities interested in pursuing power, influence, and wealth. True, there are exceptions. After all, the Salvation Army does not fight anyone, but ministers to the needy and downtrodden of the community.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

A Thought Experiment About Pantheism

October 12, 2018

Pantheism might be both the simplest notion of God, and the most sophisticated conceptualization of God. So called primitive peoples, long before the development of organized religions, saw God in nature. So perhaps it is time to abandon this notion. But consider this thought experiment.

Suppose you were an entity that could create matter and energy at will, understood everything, and could perfectly predict the future. And you were faced with eternity. From the human perspective, and perhaps also from the perspective of this all knowing and all powerful entity, this likelihood was frighteningly boring. So the entity decided to be part of his creation with the limited knowledge and capabilities of these creatures. Become fallible so challenges would emerge. Death would provide the time to review how the entity fared in these innumerable states. This is truly imponderable for us, but perhaps a way for an all-powerful, all-knowing entity to deal with eternity.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the statement is that God created man in his own image. This statement has bothered HM since he developed an initial facility in critical thinking. There have been many wise people who have said, that God did not create man in his image, but rather that man created God in his image. This statement seems more likely to HM. And, in truth, the statement insults God. Moreover, when we consider that given the enormity of the universe, and the possibility of their being, perhaps, an infinity of universes, there are likely to be some truly intelligent species that bear little of no likeness to ourselves.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

God & Homo Sapiens

October 11, 2018

This post is based largely on the outstanding book by Reza Azlan titled “God: A Human History.” This book provides an exhaustive review of evidence for religions from, at least, the earliest humans, through the development of the large religious organizations that exist today. Azlan makes a compelling argument that the belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. Moreover, he argues that it is our first belief, far older than our belief in God, and that it is this belief in the soul that begat our belief in God.

Azlan says that there are numerous studies on the cognition of children that have shown an instinctual propensity for “substance dualism”—the belief that the body and mind/soul are distinct in form and nature. This means that we enter the world with an innate sense—untaught, unforced, unprompted—that we are more than just our physical bodies. Azlan writes, “There are certain cognitive processes that can lead us to apply this inborn belief in the soul to others—human and nonhuman alike. But when it comes to belief in the soul, we are, to put it simply, born believers.

Azlan is a pantheist. He writes, “I worship God not through fear and trembling but through the awe and wonder at the workings of the universe—for the universe is God. I recognize that the knowledge of good and evil that the God of Genesis so feared humans might attain begins with the knowledge that good and evil are not metaphysical things but moral choices, I root my moral choices neither in the fear of eternal punishment nor in the hope of eternal reward. I recognize the divinity of the world and every being in it and respond to everyone and everything as though they were God—because they are . And I understand that the only way I can truly know God is by relying on the only thing I can truly know: myself. As Ibn al-Arabi said, “He who knows his soul knows the Lord.”

“God: A Human History” ends with the disturbing sentence, “You Are God.” This statement derives from the pantheistic belief that God is omnipresent, but HM would have been more comfortable with the statement, “God is within us.” When meditating, HM does definitely feel he is communicating with God.

This is radical thinking for most, but exercising our minds is important for a healthy memory. So do not just reject it out of hand, but rather think about it on occasions.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.