November 30, 2010


ME + me:  Gibbon and Mohammed (and houri's)


  "I set out upon...Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [and] was immediately dominated both by the story and the style. ...I devoured Gibbon. I rode triumphantly through it from end to end and enjoyed it all."
  -- Winston Churchill

I continue being not well, and otherwise also as before, so I cannot do much. Today I again repeat a quotation of Edward Gibbon (<- Wikipedia) I gave, with Dutch comments, a little over six years ago, when I quoted it, briefly after the murder of Theo van Gogh, so  as to shed some light on the motives of his murderer, and at the same time give an example of Gibbon's ironic style - and I put the saucy bits in bold:

It is not surprising that superstition should act most powerfully on the fears of her votaries, since human fancy can paint with more energy the misery than the bliss of a future life. With the two simple elements of darkness and fire we create a sensation of pain, which may be aggravated to an infinite degree by an idea of endless duration. But the same idea operates with opposite effect on the continuity of pleasure; and too much of our present enjoyments is obtained from the relief, or the comparison, of evil. It is natural enough that an Arabian prophet should dwell with rapture on the groves, the fountains, and the rivers of paradise; but instead of inspiring the blessed inhabitants with a liberal taste for harmony and science, conversation and friendship, he idly celebrates the pearls and diamonds, the robes of silk, palaces of marble, dishes of gold, rich wines, artificial dainties, numerous attendants, and the whole train of sensual and costly luxury, which becomes insipid to the owner, even in the short period of his moral life. Seventy-two Houris, or black-eyed girls, of resplendent beauty, blooming youth, virgin purity, and exquisite sensibility, will be created for the use of the meanest believer; a moment of pleasure will be prolonged a thousand years, and his faculties will be increased a hundred fold, to render him worthy of his felicity. Notwithstanding a vulgar prejudice, the gates of heaven will be open to both sexes; but Mohammed has not specified the male companions of the female elect, lest he should either alarm the jealousy of their former husbands, or disturb their felicity by the suspicion of an everlasting marriage. This image of a carnal paradise has provoked the indignation, perhaps the envy, of the monks: they declaim against the impure religion of Mohammed; and his modest apologists are driven to the poor excuse of figures and allegories. But the sounder and more consistent party adhere, without shame, to the literal interpretation of the Koran: useless would be the resurrection of the body, unless it were restored to the possession and exercise of its worthiest faculties; and the union of sensual and intelllectual enjoyment is requisite to the happiness of the double animal, the perfect man.

This is quoted from chapter L. The Wikipedia-article on Gibbon rightly says

Gibbon's work has been criticised for its scathing view of Christianity as laid down in chapters XV and XVI. Those chapters were strongly criticised and resulted in the banning of the book in several countries. Gibbon's alleged crime was disrespecting, and none too lightly, the character of sacred Christian doctrine, by "treat[ing] the Christian church as a phenomenon of general history, not a special case admitting supernatural explanations and disallowing criticism of its adherents". More specifically, Gibbon's blasphemous chapters excoriated the church for "supplanting in an unnecessarily destructive way the great culture that preceded it" and for "the outrage of [practicing] religious intolerance and warfare".

It should be added - and I formulate fairly carefully - that Gibbon was far more impressed by the evil done in the name of religions than by the good religions bring about, that according to the faithful of all major faiths, is limited for the most part only to the faithful of their own faith, and denied to the faithful of all other faiths, who according to many sects would be tortured eternally in hell for being mistaken during their earthly life, however good and noble they lived, and however little harm they did to others.

Indeed, why God in His infinite wisdom and with his infinite powers to do good did not create human beings who are a bit more rational and reasonable than the average is very difficult to see for an atheist like me - except that the faithful of all faiths should agree with me that all religions other than their own, and all political ideologies they do not themselves support, are mostly concocted from wishful thinking, fallacies or stupidity.

And having linked these three explanations for much of the miseries of human history and human lives, here are the first and last for your contemplation:

Wishful thinking: The inference of conclusions that conform to one's desires because they conform to one's desires: "It is so, because I desire it to be so; it is not so, because I desire it not to be so."

Inference Scheme of Wishful Thinking: I desire it were true, therefore it is true.

This is the fundamental principle of invalid reasoning, and it should be clear why this is so and why no human being spends a day or an hour without some wishful thinking: Because wishful thinking yields what human beings wish, and gives them satisfaction and pleasure, even if this is merely fantasy, and because human beings desire so much to get what they please that merely imagining that things are as they desire to believe they are is a sufficiently strong motive to make them believe what they desire, and to act on that belief.

It is the real basis of each political ideology and each religion. Normally, it goes together with the active refusal to seriously consider the reasoned arguments of (supposed) opponents.

Here is the 19th Century English mathematician Augustus De Morgan (a good friend of Boole) on the subject and its implications:

"My opinion of mankind is founded upon the mournful fact that, so far as I can see, they find within themselves the means of believing in a thousand times as much as there is to believe in, judging by experience."
   (De Morgan)

Stupidity: Marked lack of intelligence or marked presence of unconscious ignorance.

Stupidity is, in various ways, one of the important 'unacknowledged legislators of  mankind' and an important force of history. The main reason is that political leaders, priests and clergy abuse their authority to mislead the none-too-intelligent majority of those they lead.

If people were more intelligent, on average, or more learned (with real knowledge, that includes accurate knowledge about one's own ignorance), the vast majority of politics and religion either would not exist at all, or would have a different content and effect. 

This does not only apply to ordinary men, but also to their leaders of all kinds: There also are the stupidity and ignorance of the intelligent, and indeed one of the weaknesses of democracy is that it allows the not-very-intelligent democratically elected to lead the not-at-all-intelligent majority. (A related weakness of monarchical systems of government are whole generations of hereditary kings without any special talents whatsoever.)

It is difficult to do much about this, apart from universal eugenetics, for which there is certainly not enough knowledge at present. Until then, the general rule is Schiller's "Gegen die Dummheit kämpfen selbst die Götter vergebens" - Against stupidity even the Gods battle in vain.

To turn back to Gibbon on Mohammed's religion:

The quotation does give part of the reasons for the popularity of the Mohammedan faith among the more simple minded: The promised paradise is an infinite heavenly life where orgasms will last "a thousand years", where one's faculties "will be increased a hundred fold", all - for men like me, supposing I belonged to the fiath of Mohammed - to while away the infinities with no less than 72 young women (or angelic creatures) of "resplendent beauty, blooming youth, virgin purity, and exquisite sensibility".

That shows one of the meanings of  "Allahu Akbar!", I'd say.

Personally, I believe in no heavenly paradise whatsoever, nor indeed in any hell, except on earth, generally manufactured by human totalitarianism, cruelty, blindness, prejudice, stupidity and ignorance, but I freely admit that if one tries to found a faith by promises about the heaven that awaits the faithful, the assurances of Mohammed as to heavenly rewards seem more attractive to me than the assurances of Calvin about the heaven of the Calvinist godhead, although it is true that I also do have

"a liberal taste for harmony and science, conversation and friendship".

P.S. Corrections have to be made later.

And let me again strongly recommend reading Gibbon - to the more intelligent of my readers (*) - at least if you can handle his English, which is excellent but not easy, and namely if you want to read one of the great historians who also was a great writer. And doing so also may contribute considerably to your happiness and to your understanding of mankind.

(*) ''The power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous''. (Gibbon, also quoted by Feynman in the foreword to his "Lectures on Physics".)

Finally, it is possible that starting the next month there will be more Dutch in Nederlog. If so, I'll explain.

P.P.S. It may be I have to stop Nederlog for a while. The reason is that I am physically not well at all. I don't know yet, but if there is no Nederlog, now you know the reason.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
     insufficient evidence
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

Maarten Maartensz

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