ISSUE: January 2001
Edited by Dave Peterson
NEXT MEETING: Sunday 21 January at 4:00 p.m.
Gage Hall, 4 Archdale St., Charleston SC
Our speaker: Minister Dennis Muhammad
The Nation of Islam extension in Charleston, SC, under the leadership of
the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, has been spearheaded by Minister Dennis
Muhammad since October 1994. Since being appointed as the Charleston, SC
representative of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation
of Islam, Minister Muhammad has been a catalyst for change in the
Charleston area. An avid proponent of the teachings of Islam as taught
by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Minister Muhammad has walked the
streets and communities of Charleston seeking to make a positive impact
on the quality of life for his people.
Topic: "Evolution and the Science of Life According to Islam"
Minister Dennis Muhammad was born on August 13, 1970 in Conway, SC. He
was reared in a disciplined and religious family structure under the
parentage of Reverend Dennis Graham Sr. and Angie P. Graham. At an early
age Minster Muhammad developed an inclination to the study of history
and a reading of biographies. In his quest for knowledge he read over
one hundred biographies during one school term as well as completing the
Bible in its entirety by the time he entered high school. His enthusiasm
for knowledge would eventually lead to his discovery and study of the
Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his mission to black people in America.
Minister Muhammad graduated from Loris High School in 1988 and attended
the College of Charleston where he received his Bachelor of Science
degree in Business Administration with a minor in History in 1992.
During his tenure as a student at the College of Charleston, Minister
Muhammad became a social activist negotiating with administrative
officials to add more diversity to the curriculum by adding more African
American classes and professors for the majority white populated campus.
Highly cognizant of the lack of cultural awareness among the black
students on campus, he and a handful of students initiated the African
American Study Group which attracted dozens of students and community
activists on a weekly basis.
Minister Muhammad has been happily married to Valerie L. Muhammad for
HUMANIST BOOK DISCUSSION...
You're invited to participate in the Humanist Book Discussion on the
first Sunday of each month from 3 - 5 p.m. We meet at Barnes & Noble in
the shopping center at the corner of Hwy. 61 and Sam Rittenburg Blvd. in
West Ashley. Barnes & Noble sells our chosen books at a discount, and
you can find them in the section called "Staff Recommendations."
Everyone is welcome to attend the discussions, whether or not you have
read the entire book or any of it. The book for Sunday, February 4 will
be Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee, in honor of Darwin Day later
IN APPRECIATION OF ROGER PREVOST...
By Sharon Fratepietro
Roger Prevost is the SHL member you can always count on to do what he
agrees to do when he says he will do it.
You can count on him to handle a time-consuming chore like arranging to
have our SHL T-shirts made. You can count on him to always be there to
pick up trash when we clean up Highway 61 four times a year. You can
count on him to volunteer his house and all the work that entails for
our May potluck social meeting.
Roger is a contractor by profession with his own construction company on
Folly Beach, where he designs and builds beautiful homes. If you
attended the December potluck meeting at Katherine and Arthur Prevost's
house, you have seen an example of Roger's talent, for he designed and
built that beautiful house. Roger is a single parent, the father of
Jacob (age 18) and Gina (age 15). He is an extraordinarily good dancer
and loves riding his motorcycle. Roger's other interests include
boating, protecting nesting turtles at Folly Beach, attending national
Humanist conferences, and, lucky for us, being our friend in the Secular
Humanists of the Lowcountry.
Thank you, Roger, for your efforts on behalf of SHL, and for your
thoughtful contribution at meetings and interesting conversation at our
Vickery's dinners. We appreciate, too, your serving on the Executive
Committee for so long. We also thank you for introducing your mother and
father, Katherine and Arthur Prevost, to the SHL.
SHL WEBSITE: Calling all hands...
Note: The following request for assistance is no longer applicable. After reading it, I volunteered. -Alex Kasman (Webmaster, Jan 2001).
The manager of our website for the last several years, Judith Bandsma,
has found it necessary to resign the position. Bandsma, who manages
websites professionally, took over the job from yours truly. She did
this without pay because she wanted to help a humanist group in the
Charleston area where she lives. Ironically, she became aware of us
while netsurfing at a relative's home in Florida. I want to thank her
for all the work she put into the site, work that I would not have been
good at. Perhaps you remember how minimalist my page was.
In any event SHL needs a new webpage manager. This is a good
opportunity for someone who wants to learn through hands-on experience
how these things are done; or for someone experienced to get another
item for his resume. If you have any interest in helping in this
important part of SHL's activities, let me know. (See next item.)
CHANGE OF ADDRESS...
If you looked at the masthead closely, you may have noticed that my
e-mail address has changed. The old one will be ok for awhile, but do
switch over to "email@example.com
CHARLES DARWIN COMES TO CHARLESTON...
By Sharon Fratepietro
Well, not the eminent scientist, himself, but pages from his original
Origin of Species and Descent of Man.
We can thank the Karpeles Manuscript Museum in Charleston for bringing
this exhibit to our community. Other Darwin documents on display
include correspondence with contemporaries like George Bernard Shaw and
Thomas Malthus. The exhibit also contains other historically important
items from the museum's permanent Charleston collection.
The best thing, of course, about the Karpeles Manuscript Museum is its
marvelous, rotating collection of extraordinary documents amassed by
museum founder David Karpeles, owner of the world's largest private
collection of historical documents. The previous exhibit, for example,
on medical history, showed handwritten documents by a diverse group that
included Florence Nightingale, Albert Schweitzer and Francis Crick.
The next best thing about the museum is that it's always free. It does
not even accept donations. The museum was given to our community (and
also established in six other lucky communities across the country) by
David Karpeles as a way of sharing the objects of his passion for
history. You can park free right next to the museum, which is housed in
the magnificent St. James Methodist Church, a place with some history of
its own, dating back to 1791.
I would like to ask everyone who reads this to make time to visit the
museum and thank its on-site directors for bringing the Charles Darwin
exhibit to Charleston, where, as you know, Darwin's name is not always
spoken with respect. The Darwin exhibit runs until the end of March. If
you are the sentimental type, you might particularly want to visit
during the week following Charles Darwin's birthday, February 12 (a
The Karpeles Manuscript Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11
a.m. to 4 p.m. It is located at the corner of Spring and Coming Streets
ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY FEBRUARY PICKUP
By Gill Krebs
Time again for the first 2001 Adopt-A-Highway pickup on February 3. If
it rains on on that day, we'll pick up on February 10. We really need
more people to invest a couple of hours on this community service. Six
people (which seem to be the regulars) can't do it all, and the more
people there are, the shorter the time to clean up the highway.
Our pickup area is Highway 61 starting two miles past Bees Ferry Road
and ending two miles beyond that. The start is at Drayton Hall and ends
a little past Magnolia Gardens. The Highway Department supplies
everything we need: orange bags for the trash, orange vests and pointy
sticks, but no gloves - so bring your own work or garden gloves.
The clean up shouldn't take more than a few hours, and it's a good
opportunity for us to carry on our usual interesting conversations while
we work. We'll meet at the small parking lot just across the street
from the main Drayton Hall parking lot on Hwy 61 at 9:00 AM to pick the
supplies and head out. Please call me at 763-4505 or e-mail me at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to help with the pickup. We really need more
bodies, live ones, that is.
ATHEIST ALLIANCE 2001:
DAWN OF A SECULAR ERA...
With those words as the theme, the Atlanta Freethought Society will open
the 7th annual convention of Atheist Alliance, Inc., on April 13, 2001
in Atlanta. Yes, AFS is hosting the convention of an alliance of 25
atheist/humanist groups, and it will be quite a show!
The convention committee has been meeting for several months, deciding
on details of the convention. Ed Buckner is the Convention Chairperson,
and will coordinate all speaker assignments, as well as their
audio/visual and other needs. Mirza Choudhury will coordinate with the
host hotel regarding all AAI 2001 Convention needs, including booking of
rooms, room setup, meals, and other related items. Sue Garland is in
charge of public relations: she will coordinate all publication material
and will disseminate written material for the convention. Steve
Yothment is the Convention Treasurer, in charge of recording all
revenues and costs for the convention. Alice Leitner will assist Steve
in these duties. Joe Zemel is the AAI Liaison, and will coordinate the
childcare program at the convention.
The convention location will be the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Airport Hotel.
The convention will be on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of "Easter
weekend," April 13, 14 and 15. Confirmed speakers for the convention
include Dr. Paul Kurtz, who will be the keynote speaker at the Saturday
night banquet; Robert Green Ingersoll (aka Ross Sloan of Mobile AL),
speaker for the Friday night banquet; Ross Sloan and Emmett Fields,
speaking on the life of Robert Ingersoll; Dr. Herb Silverman, speaking
on "Past Lives"; Dub Rankin, speaking on the Queen Jane's Version of the
Bible (for Adults Only); Dr. Fred Whitehead, speaking on Freethought in
the South; Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, speaking on Science and Religion; and
Jan Loeb Eisler, speaking on Secular Humanism. Other possible
speakers include Dr. Ed Buckner, Reggie Finley, Ed Kagin, and Eddie
We also plan to have a debate on Saturday night between Dan Barker and
Rubel Shelley, although this is not fully confirmed.
More info will be forthcoming. If you need questions answered now, call
Mirza Choudhury at 770-395-9566 or e-mail: atlantafreethought.org. I've
been to two of these and they're great get-togethers.
JOHN ASHCROFT: ALL PLOT AND NO CHARACTER
As most of you know by now, President-elect George W. Bush has nominated
Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri to be attorney general in his
administration. Ashcroft, governor and attorney general of that state
previous to his six year Washington stint, was just defeated in his bid
for reelection by deceased governor, Mel Carnahan. That last is perhaps
the first clue to Ashcroft's unsuitability for the post. The right wing
is attempting to spin Ashcroft as a man of character, presumably because
he has "deeply held religious convictions." A visit to any number of
religious websites will demonstrate the non-correlation of character and
"deeply held religious convictions." But what of Ashcroft, himself. Bob
Herbert of the New York Times put it well in a 4 January, 2001 column
"We keep hearing. . . John Ashcroft is a man of honor, a stalwart when
it comes to matters of principle and integrity. Former Senate colleagues
are frequently quoted as saying that while they disagree with his
ultra-conservative political views, they consider him to be a
trustworthy, fair-minded individual.
"Spare me. The allegedly upright Mr. Ashcroft revealed himself as a
shameless and deliberately destructive liar in 1999 when, as the junior
senator from Missouri, he launched a malicious attack against a
genuinely honorable man, Ronnie White, who had been nominated by the
president to a federal district court seat.
"Justice White was a distinguished jurist and the first black member of
the Missouri Supreme Court. Mr. Ashcroft, a right-wing zealot with a
fondness for the old Confederacy, could not abide his elevation to the
federal bench. But there were no legitimate reasons to oppose Justice
White's confirmation by the Senate. So Mr. Ashcroft reached into the
gutter and scooped up a few handfuls of calumny to throw at the nominee.
"He declared that Justice White was soft on crime. Worse, he was
'pro-criminal'. The judge's record, according to Mr. Ashcroft, showed 'a
tremendous bent toward criminal activity.' As for the death penalty,
that all-important criminal justice barometer - well, in Mr. Ashcroft's
view, the nominee was beyond the pale. He said that Ronnie White was the
most anti-death-penalty judge on the State Supreme Court.
"Listen closely: None of this was true. But by the time Mr. Ashcroft
finished painting his false portrait of Justice White, his Republican
colleagues had fallen into line and were distributing a memo that
described the nominee as 'notorious among law enforcement officers in
his home state of Missouri for his decisions favoring murderers,
rapists, drug dealers and other heinous criminals.'
"This was a sick episode. Justice White was no friend of criminals. And
a look at the record would have shown that even when it came to the
death penalty he voted to uphold capital sentences in 70 percent of the
cases that came before him. There were times when he voted (mostly with
the majority) to reverse capital sentences because of procedural errors.
But. . . judges appointed by Mr. Ashcroft when he was governor of
Missouri voted as often as Justice White - in some cases, more often -
to reverse capital sentences.
"But the damage was done. Mr. Ashcroft's unscrupulous, mean-spirited
attack succeeded in derailing the nomination of a fine judge. The
confirmation of Justice White was defeated by Republicans in a
party-line vote. The Alliance for Justice, which monitors judicial
selections, noted that it was the first time in almost half a century
that the full Senate had voted down a district court nominee.
"The Times, in an editorial, said the Republicans had reached 'a new
low' in the judicial confirmation process. The headline on the editorial
was 'A Sad Judicial Mugging.'
"So much for the fair-minded Mr. Ashcroft."
With respect to this, it haas been suggested that Ashcroft's opposition
was racially motivated. The jury is still out on that one, although it
must be admitted that his record is not very black-American friendly. I
think, however, that the content of his attack on White shows " in
itself " Ashcroft's unsuitability for any federal job of consequence.
He can not be fair.
I find it interesting that Ashcroft, for all his proclaimed religious
views, would so blatantly violate the commandment: thou shalt not bear
false witness against thy neighbor. The right is trying to obfuscate
this by attacking only the charges of racism. Jonah Goldberg, one of the
staff of National Review " and a person with a documented record of
playing fast and loose with the facts " defends Ashcroft this way:
"The major problem of the inquisitors is that they are talking to
[senators] who knew John Ashcroft as a colleague, and [who] are not
likely. . . to reject a man they know as a non-liar and non-racist [my
emphasis] merely to satisfy ideological bloodlust. Virtually all of this
is based on the fact that Ashcroft led the effort to block the
appointment of Missouri supreme court justice Ronnie White to a federal
district court seat. White, who is black, was the first judicial nominee
since Robert Bork in 1987 to be rejected by a senate floor vote.
"Under Senate rules, senators are given wide latitude to block the
nominations of judges from their home state. Ashcroft, who was preparing
for a brutal election against the late Missouri governor Mel Carnahan,
chose to block White's nomination. He argued that White was too liberal,
especially on the death penalty. White was more likely to vote to
overturn death sentences than any of his fellow sitting justices. He
notoriously - and solely - opposed the death penalty for James R.
Johnson. In 1991, Johnson killed a sheriff, two deputies, and an
officer's wife, who died while her family watched in the living room."
(Note that Goldberg does not indicate the reasons for White's vote,
preferring more the implication that White thought the crime
insufficiently heinous to deserve the death penalty. The basis for
White's vote was that Johnson had ineffective counsel, that the
prosecutor made inappropriate statements and that there was
prosecutorial misconduct. Ed.)
"The immediate response from the Democrats was that Ashcroft's only
motivation was racism."
(I guess the dems aren't in the group that knows Ashcroft is not a liar
or a racist. Ed.)
"Ashcroft's decision to block White surely had to do with state politics
in what promised - and turned out to be - a very tough race."
In other words, it's ok to calumnize someone if you are in a close
political race. I find such arguments " given the egregiousness of
Ashcroft's lies " reprehensible, and an indication that the utterer,
Goldberg here, is himself lacking character.
The award for the most sophistic defense of Ashcroft goes to William F.
Buckley; wouldn't you know it. He gives us this:
"The hearings in the matter of John Ashcroft for attorney general will
be, indeed have already been, one more immersion in the recurrent
pesthole of American politics, the liberal gang bang of choice
conservative figures. . . The Wall Street Journal records that
representatives have met to plot the defamation [my emphasis] of
Ashcroft. Among them, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the
AFL-CIO, the National Organization for Women, the American Civil
Liberties Union, and, of course, People for the American Way, which is,
we pause to remark, an un-American organization."
[Buckley, saying that Ashcroft has been called a "liar.", proceeds to:]
"Now the dictionary (American Heritage) qualifies you as a liar if you
say something "meant to deceive or give a false impression." It could be
said, under this definition that is at once latitudinarian and
comprehensive, that every politician since Coriolanus is a liar. Yet the
word remains near uniquely savage. If John Ashcroft is a liar in the
sense that, oh, FDR was a liar (he was going to balance the budget and
keep us out of war), forget it and aim your resentment at the fouling of
the language by such as [NYT columnist Anthony] Lewis. If, on the other
hand, Mr. Ashcroft deserves to be called a liar, then send him not to
the Justice Department, but packing, back to Missouri.
"What concretely will they argue?
"1) That he opposes abortion (so did Mother Teresa). From which it
follows that 2) he will call to the favorable attention of President
Bush candidates for judicial positions who are anti-abortion; and, 3)
cannot be relied upon to protect abortionists engaged in legal
Would some reader tell me what that last paragraph has to do with
After some talk about everything but lying, Buckley ends up trying to
defend, sort of, Ashcroft's acceptance of a degree from Bob Jones
University (the ugliest corrosion pitting on the brass buckle of South
Carolina's Bible belt, in your editor's opinion.) He says:
"That was a dumb thing to do, frankly. To speak under the auspices of
Bob Jones is one thing (I spoke there, 1953); to accept a degree from
it, in the light of its peculiar constitution, isn't seemly. But to have
done so needs to be examined in context of a person's background and
career. John Ashcroft has served as attorney general and then governor
of Missouri and as a senator from Missouri; and as the man who, noblesse
oblige, declined to contest an election loss against a dead man,
yielding gracefully to a posthumous vote of sympathy for the widow."
This is simply more of the spin that shameless polemicizers like Buckley
will resort to in their efforts to get a demonstrably unethical, hard
core conservative into the halls of justice. They should all be publicly
rebuked for their immorality. I urge everyone with a Democratic senator
to write him or her expressing your disgust with Ashcroft's character.
It is one thing for a Republican senator to hold his nose and vote aye
in the name of party unity. The Democrats have no such excuse for
ignoring their consciences.
Here are a couple of further takes on Ashcroft from the people at
American Atheist News.
OPPOSITION BUILDS AGAINST
ASHCROFT AG NOMINATION
Sen. John Ashcroft could face tough questioning and other confirmation
roadblocks when the Senate Judiciary Committee examines his nomination
as the nation's 79th U.S. Attorney General. The son of a Pentecostal
preacher who is known for his religious right politics and role in
crafting the "charitable choice" provision of the 1996 welfare reform
act, Ashcroft is already becoming a lightning rod for critics suspect of
his stand on civil rights, constitutional liberties and other issues.
While Republicans control the Judiciary Committee, ranking minority
member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) promised that the confirmation
process "will not be a pushover hearing ... they'll be tough
Religion Today news services notes that Ashcroft, 58, is "a deeply
conservative Christian. He has been a lay speaker and singer in
numerous churches, does not drink, smoke or dance, and asked for ritual
anointings with oil before his two inaugurations as Governor of Missouri
... He opposes most abortions and favors the death penalty. In
Washington, he and his wife joined about 20 other Christians in starting
a new Assemblies of God congregation near their Capitol Hill home."
It is Ashcroft's social and political agenda, though, that is raising
concerns from cause organizations and news media. While no senator has
yet publicly opposed Mr. Ashcroft's selection, groups such as People for
the American Way, American Atheists and the NAACP are mobilizing to
prevent the nomination. Several major newspapers are already asking
tough questions. The Washington Post noted earlier this week that
Ashcroft "faces rough cross-examination over his opposition to the
appointment of a black judge and whether he would be willing to enforce
a law guaranteeing access to abortion clinics." The New York Times
mentioned questions about "considerations from privacy rights and
constitutional freedoms, to whether Mr. Ashcroft's antiabortion position
will interfere with his ability to enforce federal laws protecting
"We're going to do everything possible to raise questions about
Ashcroft's support of 'charitable choice' and other efforts to direct
tax money to religious groups," promised Ellen Johnson, President of
American Atheists. In addition to an on-line campaign opposing the
nomination, Johnson said that the organization would also be launching
an effort to contact the Judiciary Committee and stop the Ashcroft
"The stakes are enormous," Johnson added. "This is the first major step
in instituting a 'Religion Tax' on the American people, and compelling
millions of Atheists, freethinkers and others who don't have a sectarian
affiliation to open their wallets and purses to faith-based groups."
For further information:
http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/bush4.htm ("Bush meets with clergy,
names Ashcroft for Attorney General post," 12/23/00)
http://www.atheists.org/action/ (Speak out against the Ashcroft
ASHCROFT STATEMENTS ON CONFEDERATES COULD BE MORE AMMUNITION IN DRIVE TO
As this edition of AANEWS heads for distribution, Associated Press is
carrying a story filed earlier today titled "Ashcroft Once Hailed
Confederates." According to the wire copy, President-elect Bush's
nominee for the nation's top law enforcement post "once hailed
Confederate war heroes as 'patriots' and suggested they shouldn't be
portrayed as having died 'for some perverted agenda.' "
Other parts of the story note that Ashcroft "advocated an increased role
for charities while opposing federal money for drug treatment, saying
government assistance shouldn't further the 'lowest and least' conduct."
The potential bombshell, though, is word that Ashcroft consented to an
interview with Southern Partisan, a periodical which often portrays what
critics charge is a distorted and whitewashed attempt to rationalize the
institution of slavery. The magazine is part of a nexus of
"Neo-Confederate" groups and publications which fuse Christian
fundamentalism, Civil War era nostalgia and racism. In a 1998
interview, Ashcroft praised the magazine for helping to "set the record
straight," and added: "You've got a heritage of defending Southern
patriots like Lee, Jackson and (Confederate President Jefferson) Davis."
"We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we'll be
taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their
sacred fortune and their honor to some perverted agenda."
The story is still breaking, and we hope to have a full report in a
SPLIT-BRAINS, PARADIGM SHIFTS,
AND WHY IT IS SO DIFFICULT
TO BE A SKEPTIC...
By Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D.
(Professor Pigliucci, who spoke to SHL last year--and will again this
spring--writes these monthly columns for posting on secular web sites.
As ours is presently under reconstruction, I have chosen to print it
The human brain is a funny machine. Imperfectly designed by natural
selection, it finds itself in an environment that has little resemblance
with the one it evolved in. Gone is the savannah in which our ancestors
had to guard themselves from fierce creatures. Instead, we live in a
complex and ever expanding social milieu, our neighborhood now
encompassing the whole planet. Is it any wonder that our poor brains are
not doing so well in this brave new wired world?
Our brains seem to fail to grasp reality, as demonstrated by the fact
that a majority of Americans don't "believe" in evolution (whatever
"believing" in a scientific theory means), while a sizable percentage is
ready to accept the existence of an imaginary all-powerful god, as well
as of the devil, hell, and a slew of angels. Why is it so difficult to
be a reasonably skeptical person? What is it that makes so many
apparently intelligent people so gullible about things that their brains
clearly have the power to master? And--perhaps most importantly for the
skeptic--how do we get people to change their minds in an informed way
on so wide an array of irrationalities?
Obviously, I am not going to present the reader with the magic bullet
that can answer these questions, but a starting point is being provided
by recent research in neurobiology. It turns out that lately we have
learned a lot about how the brain works and why it makes mistakes while
interpreting reality. Since our most powerful tool doesn't come with an
owner's manual, it may pay off to spend a little time thinking about how
Perhaps one of the most dramatic ways we are learning about the brain is
by studying patients who literally have a split one. The brain is made
of two hemispheres, joined by a structure called the corpus callosum
which contains nerve fibers that continuously exchange signals between
the right and left hemisphere. Some individuals have suffered more or
less complete damage to the corpus callosum, either because of a stroke
or because of a surgical operation. These subjects are invaluable to
neurobiologists because it is possible to interrogate the right and left
hemispheres separately, see how differently they think, and then piece
this information together to reconstruct the thought patterns of normal
individuals. The problem with attempting to "talk" to both hemispheres
is that language is controlled by the left one, the only hemisphere that
can articulate things. Fortunately, the right side can still "respond"
to interrogations by virtue of its control over the motor functions of
the left half of the body, including the arm and hand.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing neurobiologists have discovered from
split-brain patients is that the left hemisphere, which normally
"dominates" the right one, is literally in charge of our view of the
world. And it fights hard to preserve it. In a wonderfully elegant
experiment, a group of researchers led by Michael Gazzaniga at Dartmouth
College showed pictures to the right and left hemispheres of a
split-brain patient and then asked each hemisphere to pick another
picture to accompany the one originally presented. The right side was
shown (through the left half of the visual field) a house with snow and,
logically enough, it picked a shovel. The left hemisphere was shown a
chicken leg (through the right half of the visual field), and it picked
a chicken head--also quite logically. The experimenters then verbally
asked the patient to explain his choices. The left hemisphere was the
only one that could articulate an answer, but remember--it did not know
why his right counterpart had chosen a shovel, since the information
about the house with the snow did not cross the severed corpus callosum.
The patient's answer was as astounding as illuminating: "Oh, that's
simple. The chicken claw goes with the chicken [which was true], and you
need a shovel to clean out the chicken shed [which was coherent, but
completely false]." In other words, the left hemisphere acted as an
interpreter of the worldview of the individual and fabricated a just--so
story to fit all the available data!
These sort of experiments have shown that the left hemisphere is in
charge of our worldview, of the paradigms we currently hold about a
variety of aspects of reality. In normal patients, these paradigms are
constantly evaluated against external evidence, gathered by both
hemispheres through a suite of sensorial inputs. The left interpreter
has the all-important function of making sense of the world, and it does
a reasonably good job at it. However, when the incoming data is
insufficient, or when some piece of evidence contradicts the currently
held view, the left hemisphere either rejects the unfit information or
it distorts it so to make sense of it. This process of "rationalizing"
the world goes on up to a certain point. If the degree of conflicting
information is too high (i.e., there is too much dissonance between what
one believes and what one perceives) then that most stupendous
phenomenon suddenly occurs: we change our minds (literally)!
The problem that rational people face, then, is twofold. On the one
hand, the brain has evolved a powerful mechanism to avoid to change its
mind too often, which means that people will stubbornly continue to
believe all sorts of nonsense because it is less painful than to
radically alter their worldview. On the other hand, we know that the
problem is all the more insurmountable when the data fed to the subject
is poor, and unfortunately most of what modern human beings are exposed
to by the media is pure garbage.
However, there is no need to despair just yet. Understanding the problem
is a necessary (though by all means not sufficient) step to solve it.
Realizing where people's stubbornness (and sometimes our own) comes from
will help not getting unduly irritated or downright nasty when facing
patent irrationality in our fellow human beings. And empathy is one
important step toward connecting with anybody. The second message of
modern neurobiological research is perhaps an old one, but which now
comes with the weight of evidence: education is our (slow) way out. What
we need to do is to keep educating people, to feed good information to
the brain's interpreter. If neurobiologists are correct, most brains
will come to understand reality if properly nurtured. It is ignorance
which provides the necessity for just--so stories, with all the tragic
consequences that follow when people defend a flawed worldview at all
THE SWINEHERD'S LAMENT...
(Reference, Matthew 8:28-34)
By SHL member (and recent speaker) John Guthrie
From across the Sea of Galilee
The Exorcist came to Gadarene
Where lived those two by demons possessed.
The demons he cast out
And into - MY PIGS!
They who had offended no one.
Yet over the cliff to drown in the sea
Went my herd entire. With squeals of terror,
Racing, stumbling, maddened by some inner fire.
Just pigs you say?
Swine are lovely to the swineherd
With them I spent my every day.
Sorcerer, Magician, whatever you be
Would you but give back my dear swine to me
Question: If you could live forever, would you and why?
Answer: I would not live forever, because we should not live forever,
because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever,
but we can not live forever, which is why I would not live forever.
Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss Universe contest
'Faith, indeed, has up to the present not been able to move real
mountains. . . But it can put mountains where there are none.'
'There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to
give some of it away to imaginary beings.'