Religious Experiences Shrink Part of the Brain: Scientific American

I have sometimes felt a twinge of envy for those who manage to convince themselves of the existence of extraterrestrial beings who look out for us or manipulate our fate. It would make the world much more predictable knowing we had somebody to plead to, and would mitigate the despairing awareness of our essential solitude.  So thought the original pragmatist, Charles Sanders Peirce, who supposed that his mind would be more tranquil if only he could accept what was to him obviously absurd, i.e., a Higher Intelligence or God. But no such luck, for him or me.

But as we've always known, since even before Voltaire lampooned it, the cost of such tranquility is the sacrifice of critical intelligence. And now we have a clue as to how that tranquility and that sacrifice may be related, and I cease feeling any twinge of envy. And I'm not even especially despairing about the solitude: as we say in Spanish, Mejor solo que mal acompañado.

Religious Experiences Shrink Part of the Brain: Scientific American

Thanks to friend Dirk van Nouhuys for signaling this article. If you're curious about my other reflections on this most curious phenomenon, religious experience, just click on the keyword "religion" below.


Real democracy now! Toward a "Spanish revolution"

Finally good things are happening in Spanish politics! Calling the massive demos in towns across the country a "Spanish revolution" (as some of the foreign press has it) may be hyperbole, but those assemblies have broken open a political and psychological blockage to release real democratic dynamism.

Last year I planned to post a commentary on Spanish politics every week, as a writing exercise that would help me get to know this country. But I found myself presenting excuses for failing to meet my own self-imposed deadline (for example, in this post from 2010/06/04), mainly for these reasons:
  • it was taking too much time, and I had other things I wanted to do (like publish my novel) ;
  • it was too depressing; and
  • nobody cared, or at maybe I just hadn't managed to make these events interesting or comprehensible enough for anybody to respond.
It's still depressing to watch the politics of destroying your opponent so that you and your buddies, rather than the other guys, could pillage public resources, especially when you see voters return to office notorious crooks. But now, suddenly, in a burst of mobilization that began only a few weeks ago, a major part of the electorate is no longer looking on dazed and impotent.

Last week we were in Madrid, part of the time at the Puerta del Sol, at the huge, spontaneous, beautifully ordered mini-city of thousands of people drawn to the demand of "Real democracy now!" I rolled the video above on Thursday, 19 May.

Now let's see if the official, institutionalized "left" — especially the Partido Socialista Obrero Español, which suffered disastrous defeat last week — will be able to respond creatively. Or just dissolve into irrelevance.