A Quote to Find the Rabbit Hole

“Zeno’s arguments, in some form, have afforded grounds for almost all theories of space and time and infinity which have been constructed from his time to our own.”

Recalled via Boyer, Carl B. The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1959. Previously published under the title, The Concepts of the Calculus

Catch a Cold/Be Depressed: The Cartesian Bias in our Illness Model-separating mental health from physical health

Psychologists deal with the slippery subject of mental states. Now, your general practitioner, who you see for your annual physical check up, can flirt with the treatment of mental states. She or he may prescribe you something for low-level anxiety or sleep but they generally only provide medication or a referral. 

That is the standard physician approach: there is a tangible thing presented as the probable solution for any given health concen–medication to produce chemical changes within the body;  an incision to physically pluck the ailment from the body;  a replacement for a broken part, a lung transplant, for instance.  A general practicier, however, cannot help with that root canal you’ve been ignoring. 

Fair enough, right?

Human bodies are complicated meat sacks with numerous systems, pieces of anatomy, sensory receptor devices like eyes or tongues,  and organs that keep it all going. So we see specialization (dentistry, gynocology, surgery, etc) and even specialized specialization (neurosurgeon, pediatrist, optometrist, etc).

Yet. those specialities related to mental wellness appear idiosyncratic in regards to both the doctor-patient relationship and the standards & management of patient care. Namely, the coordination of medication with therapeutic treatment sessions. 
Historically, health praticicioners and society referred to mentally unwell folks as mental defectives, demonically possessed, undesirable, prophets, lazy, feeble-minded, and genetically undesirable

It is elusive to us in a way ‘physical’ illness is not


I can see a hairline fracture with x-ray technology and I can see lab results produced by the scientific testing of my bodily fluids, and the report advises the lab discerned a virus had invaded my system,accounting for my aches and pains.I cannot see Post Traumatic Syndrome; I can take someone’s blood pressure, I cannot quantitatively measure someone’s level of depression.

Perhaps this is why we feel the need to distinguish between ‘physical’ malady and ‘mental’ malady in the first place, as opposed to just calling all illnesses ‘illness.’  

 The connections wired throughout the physical brain, create a self and this self experiences the surrounding reality to the extent that the physical body remains in its proper working condition (good health).

The symptoms of mental maladies manifest via our behaviors in the way that  anatomical and physiological maladies present in the body’s various organ systems.

Perhaps we cannot shake the idea that physical sickness is largely outside of a person’s control.  If my appendix ruptures I cannot will it back together again, nor would anyone in their right mind expect me to be able to do so.

However, what if I won’t go to work because I believe an evil elf lives inside my mailbox and will kill me if I walk by it? Do you expect me to will myself to ‘get over it?’  If my sense of reality has ruptured somewhere within my perceiving mind am I anymore capable of willing it back together than I was capable of willing my appendix back together?


It is almost as though some area of my mind I am generally unaware of on a day to day basis is taking control over ‘me’ or whatever you call that perceiver who examines the thoughts of the mind and chooses which to act on, which to ignore, which to believe, etc.  Think of autoimmune diseases whereby an afflicted individual’s immune system begins to attack good, healthy cells.  Here an evolved physiological system goes haywire and attacks that which gives it being and existence in the first place.  

    Similarly, the mind can go haywire, and attack the mental state of the self.  Having an appendectomy is an acceptable reason to take leave from work and family and to rest and heal.  Taking these same allowances while working past the evil mailbox troll (with all it’s panic attack inducing, odd behavior causing, work/family missing consequences) until I no longer suffer from its alleged influence is a much harder sell to make to the rest of society at large.  The idea of allowing people to openly profess and work through their own mental delusions does not always sit well with the rest of our cultural compadres.  

    This mental, existential type of malady requires a certain amount of comfort with the idea that we are not always in control of our minds that society, by virtue of it being society, cannot accept.  Society forces us to constantly be in control of our minds. We pick up and send out cues to signal and follow other cues and behaviors such that our many independent parts become something larger than the sum of ourselves.  Collectively we are one of Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘epiphenomena.’  


    Society’s existence requires the creation of, learning of, and obeying of accepted rules.  These rules inform our mind in various situations, and we remember past situations which required us to follow these same rules and we use those memories to guide us to appropriately follow the rules this time, too.  Thus society sets up a framework through which we can perceive others in relation to ourselves.  More accurately, it is a system that allows us to see ourselves by juxtaposing your self against other selves, seeing your own idiosyncratic mind reveal itself in contrast to the minds of others , and we glimpse within those other minds that we can never open up and look inside.  Thus society gives us a framework with which to perceive ourselves as individuals creating something bigger than our individual selves.  


    The idea that the mind could, at anytime,  take that socially learned framework and distort it, terrifies and undermines society’s teleological purpose, which is to bring order to chaos.  So society has a vested interest in defining what is real and what is not; what is expected and what is unacceptable; what a normal brain is and what a disordered brain is.  But perhaps there is no such thing as a normal brain.  We must be careful not to confuse the demands of society on an individual’s mind with the demands of natural selection or misfortune on an individual’s brain.  

Mediating Anthropology’s Feuding Factions

The radical cultural relativism popular in contemporary anthropological thought presupposes that cultures are incommensurable* with one another.  On one level, this is true, on a higher level, it is a truism–they are still both ‘cultures.’  Cultures, as considered here, is a fundamental psychological mechanism that is included in the homo sapiens adaptive package.  

This is not a reductionist call to arms.  By reference to biology and physics, we anchor the human experiences to the same weight–we do so with awareness of the western biomedical paradigm which we in the western sciences use to see–we do not do so to reduce the human experiences to the same end or to the sum of their parts, as much as out of respect to those who would be upset were not to acknowledge our own self-awareness (I find this practice tedious and unnecessary, but I am pliable).


The elegance of anthropology is not to be found in the creation of axiomatic laws of culture nor can it be found with long-winded diatribes that can appear to be little more than an appeal to authority–not a legitimate data source.  

Its elegance lies in its ability to elucidate the unseen and unseeable veil of the unknown and the unknowable.  It is the notion of experiencing that meta-pattern which is the epi-phenomenon of our actions and thoughts and their innumerable interactions and influences.  “Except in pure mathematics, nothing is known for certain (although much is certainly false).”(Sagan)

To tack the discussion back towards something more tangible, there exists a black and white distinction within the hard sciences in regards to what is scientific and what, conversely, is not scientific: does it meet the standards of the scientific method (is it repeatable, is it measurable?)  Yes or no?

“Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions.”(Sagan, a candle in the dark).


Whereas a biologist can confidently announce, ‘yes, this is so’ (assuming proper lab conditions and standards); a social ‘scientist’ cannot.  A social scientist has reservations and restrictions: about the repeatability of the experiment and the repeatability of the experiment’s environment, about phantom variables that may not have been controlled for, about the success of maintaining objectivity during methodology.

The biologist’s evidence is ‘scientific’ by definition and thus the biologist’s conclusions are sure-footed, so to speak (even if they are not directly on the bull’s eye).  The social scientist’s evidence is ‘take my word for it’ or ‘you had to be there’ (i.e. others have no way to verify the data or methodology and thus the social scientist’s conclusions are grasping at straws (even if the analogies appear to be commonsense).  

(1)  Whether the social scientist’s conclusions are correct in the ultimate sense, is not the the concern here.  The concern is the social scientist’s conclusions are intuitions but there is not a whole lot in the way of objective evidence for the social scientist to point at and say ‘see for yourself.’

(2)  The heart of what this blog tries to get at directly reduces to the phenomenon of a priori reasoning.


Many physicists, especially of the theoretical persuasion, use a priori reasoning and only afterward design and perform an experiment.  But when social scientists, particularly anthropologists, use a priori reasoning they construct a paradigm or viewpoint, a perspective, from which they will watch the experiment as it unfolds.  What they see and what they do not see will be determined by this a priori explanatory paradigmatic scaffolding.  When someone later on questions this constructed meaning-making paradigm, you can point to the experiment; but, what has happened is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

You decide what “culture” means scientifically, measurably, precisely, and consistently.  To prove this definition you cite the experiment you performed using your personal or externally referenced paradigm of what culture is.  But, your experimental evidence does not confirm or support your paradigm necessarily, it reflects the assumptions you made before you even began experimenting.  You did not really learn anything, you saw what you set out to see.  

I owe some references here and will cite sources shortly.

Religion & Science- Can’t Parse This? 

The word ‘paragon’ entered the cultural consciousness in the 16th Century.




noun: paragon; plural noun: paragons

  1. a person or thing regarded as a perfect example of a particular quality.

    “it would have taken a paragon of virtue not to feel viciously jealous”


mid 16th century: from obsolete French, from Italian paragone ‘touchstone used to discriminate good (gold) from bad,’ from medieval Greek parakonē ‘whetstone.’Original Source

Three places show widely dispersed, common usage of words expressing the bones of ‘paragon’.



Anyone who claims they don’t know the feeling of magic and terror that accompanies adolescence has surely forgotten.

My father completed his dissertation while I was a tyke; and, he, my Mom, and I lived in student apartments.  I have only happy memories of this time.

I also have memories of seeing my father’s work: a bunch of weird symbols strung together forming what appears to be some alien form of writing.  It was mathematical formulae, mathematical statements, mathematical symbols, constants, variables, imaginary, irrational.  It was like musical notation is to writing. It was magic.  I never saw most other adults using this language in my 3 year old, day to day goings on, so it was special magic.

The benefit of being in the same city as something like the University of Alabama is that nice, local intellectual atmosphere, lots of thinkers & questioners living within a very near physical proximity of one another and the local community    

Looking back, however, the intellectual milieu associated with the university’s presence was more tolerated than embraced by the local community and only under the implicit understanding that the university had better also produce some fine athletic feats for large groups of people to enjoy watching.

 Science is dangerous to religiousness in the South.

Scientific knowledge benefits mankind. It provides him a place in the world that is demarcating by very specific standards of measurement. It enables liberty of thought and provides the freedom to be wrong and not be ashamed. It is like music.  Can we say that music and evolution are incompatible?   Sure, but do we pat ourselves on the back when we say “apples are not oranges?”

Can we assert that science conceivably evokes that same sensation as that spiritual impulse that drives many to religion?

Eek, what an awkward thing to say.  Let me talk about that esoteric bit for a moment.  Religious texts frequently use moments of prophecying & revelation as themes associated with connecting to God/the divine: feeling the spirit; being touched; being moved; feeling grace, etc 

The feeling of magic and the experience of being in the presence of something aweinspiring, is one described and experienced by both those in Academia and those in religious groups.

Whatever you choose to term this feeling and whatever causal force with which you choose to associate it, the sensation experienced appears to be the same one. The physical feeling of connecting to God and that physical feeling experienced through elucidating hitherto unknown/unobserved phenomenona via scientific methods, might be the same sensation.  The actions of the mind have produced stimuli which the sense organs take in (like raw data into a computer) and convert into a physical and psychological experience via the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.

Speaking personally, as child I believed in God in a way that an young person believes in Santa, superficially until deeper contemplation occurred.  I have never heard God speak to me and am, in fact, quite jealous of those who ‘talk to the Lord’ or ‘hear Him.’

To those, I would ask-

 “Why not me?  I prayed as a child and did everything asked of me.  What did science do to you guys anyhow?

To those who benefit from experiencing His existence, your patience with the rest of us and with a unaffiliated like me.

I don’t think you should give up on science.  I also do not think you should take things so personally. Maybe some of us losers only know how to seek this “god” through scientific means (particularly,  those of us who do not hear His voice).  Well, if God does exist, God does not have to be knowable through science nor does He have to reveal himself to me.  He could judge me for trying to see my world scientifically, but I would say that to not have tried to see my world through the paradigm of science would have been a blasphemous life for me.

  Beauty is subjective, eye of the beholder.  What I point to when I use the term ‘beautiful’ may not be the same as that to which you allude as beautiful.  But, that phenomenon to which we are referring-that thing of which the alluded to objects possess-is beauty; and, that thing, beauty, is fundamentally experienced via phenomenon basic to each and all of us, .

How do we talk and/or should we?  Does the animosity produce any observable or even foreseeable benefits?  Can we and/or should we be pragmatic?

These are honest questions.  I am not religious in the common sense.  I prefer to think I have moments of insight that feel larger or more infinite than I could previously have imagined, but they usual arrive when I work with science and logic, or read certain pieces of writing.

But then college, and physical anthropology and the sweet processes of inductive and deductive logic took hold of me. I have been moved emotionally upon reading x, actually creating a proof to show that there is no highest number, upon reading The Glass Bead Game…..
Can science and religion reconcile? And, if they can, to what gain

The most recognizable voices from the scientific community engaged in the evolution/creationist debate include Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Lawrence M. Krauss among others. These scientists take an offensive approach to those peoples and groups who would deny science’s authority as a way of defining the world.  They do this because of their belief that religious thought and reasoning are actively hurting our world. Now by ‘aggressive,’ I do not mean to imply these academics are threatening violence, nor are they harassing individuals unduly, but they are aggressive.

Activity:   Please complete this sentence…

The aggressive scientist……

The subject of the sentence above does not resound with my individual conception of ‘scientists.’ Now, passionate, consumed, obsessed-these scientists I can imagine. But aggressive scientists?   None spring to mind, with the exception of those scientists whom have been deemed Militant Atheists (by their religiously inclined counterparts) and this vilification tactic began within the last ten to 20 years.

This raises fundamental questions for me like-

  1. When, if ever, should scientists antagonize those individuals refusing to accept the axioms of empiricism as true and assumable?  Does society require science to play the role of playground bully from time to time (remember Thomas Henry Huxley AKA Darwin’s Bulldog?)



























































cientific discovery can be hazardous to one’s health