David Hume

There is something heroic about David Hume single-mindedly batttling away to enquire into human knowledge and question the existence of God (in the eighteenth century). His theory of cause and effect is counter-intuitive and takes some reflection to really understand. As Jeremy Neil says, he doesn’t deny the ‘idea’ we all have that one thing causes another; he just points out that there is no sensory or empirical evidence to prove causation. This is typical philosophical thinking; it is thinking about thinking really and questioning appearances.

However, as my poem light-heartedly shows, I am a little sceptical about his scepticism! Blake named Bacon, John Locke and Newton as the Satanic Trinity and he didn’t think much of Hume either. He objected to their extreme scepticism and wrote a poem with these lines: If the sun and moon would doubt, they would immediately go out!

Apparently, Hume was even tempered and was also serene and uncomplaining on his death-bed.

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David Hume’s Apple (not Newton’s)

 

It exists; he’ll not deny (one among five).

It’s even conjoined to two (at least) events:

One, seeing it; two, desiring it.

Hey presto; one minute it’s resting in a bowl,

the next it’s in my tum – (yum, that’s better!).

The principle of custom and habit can of course

explain the non-effect of my non-causal appetite,

the non-effect of my tongue moving up and back,

the non-effect of my epiglottis closing off my trachea,

the non-effect of salivation, juices flowing

(even the blending of non-causes and non-effects in the mind of God!)

and the non-effect of my non-swallowing oesophagus muscles

to deliver the ripe fruit into my stomach (secret powers?).

There’s a necessary connection (all in the mind?)

between my appetite, will, instinct, motion and gratification.

Can you stomach that? Bon appetite!

 

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Spirituality without Religion

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What is spirituality without religion? In a nutshell it is leading a conscious life, doing good and as little harm as possible, without adhering to a religion. For me the Golden Rule of ‘do to others what you would like them to do to you’, is a good general guide to living. ‘Know yourself’ is the other side of the coin. This saying has become a bit of a cliché and it’s possible to pay lip service to it or think that we do know ourselves, end of story. However the deeper aspect necessitates on-going inner work to know – for example – when we are being judgemental or how we are acting from self-interest rather than seeing the bigger picture. More and more people use mindfulness in their daily lives as a way of counteracting their ego-centric view of the world. It’s actually hard work to be vigilant and identify all the little needy habits of thought most of us manifest during the day!
There have been various attempts to write a secular set of guidelines for living in the twenty first century. Lex Bayer and John Figdo, co-authors of Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-first Century (2014), offered $10,000 as prize money in a contest, which drew more than 2,800 submissions.  A team of 13 judges selected the following ten points:

1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to
be true.
3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
4. Every person has the right to control of their body.
5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
9. There is no one right way to live.
10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

Perhaps some of these points are best exemplified in the 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, where the hero is shown how his actions during his life have positively affected others. I would expand point 1 to suggest we hold our beliefs lightly. When we look at the harm done to others in the name of various ideologies we can see where strict adherence to beliefs leads. It’s often said that the way the world would change for the better is if each of us takes on the responsibility of changing ourselves. For anyone new to this inner work, and for a purely secular way into it, I’d recommend watching the video talks of both Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie.

On the recommendation of a friend this book is very relevant: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion, by Sam Harris.