The reincarnation of a WW2 pilot?

Summary

The case of the alleged reincarnation of James Houston Junior, an American pilot being shot down in Japan during WWII, is often seen as the strongest evidence for reincarnation. In this long article, I investigated this claim. While many putative pieces of evidence can have come about through foreknowledge or leading questions, there are a number of inconvenient facts that remain. Whilst they aren’t sufficient for proving reincarnation, they certainly make this case anomalous.

Introduction

 

If any alleged case of reincarnation proved to be genuine, both Christianity and Naturalism might be gravely undermined.

In what follows, I sought to investigate one famous such incident with the mind of an open sceptic, i.e. someone who carefully investigates the evidence without having a prior belief in the plausibility or implausibility of the phenomenon.

 

A good summary of the peculiar story involving James Leininger and his parents Bruce and Andrea can be found here.

This is an interview of the parents.

I base my analysis of the facts on the book “Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot” written by Bruce and Andrea Leininger, while, of course, considering the possibility they might misremember some things or get certain facts wrong.

I’ll start by quoting the “explanation” of two naturalistic philosophers John Martin Fischer and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin in their book “Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Our Visions of the Afterlife

Unlike Internet Sceptics, they are moderate and respectful and their text is a pleasant read.

,

They start by summarising the case:

 

“At the age of two, James Leininger began having frightening dreams that caused him to yell out and to kick, and claw in his sleep.
He’d dream that he crashed in an air-plane and was trying to escape. The details James shared about these dreams were astonishing. He demonstrated encyclopaedic knowledge about World War II aircraft, and he recounted facts about a particular aircraft carrier, the Natoma Bay, and its flight crew, including naming a fellow pilot, Jack Larsen.
Jame’s fascination with these aircraft and events in the war was not confined to his dreams. He drew pictures, acted out scenes, and talked frankly and in great detail about the battle of Iwo Jima. He signed his pictures “James 3” because he was, in his words, “the third James.”
As Jame’s parents began looking more deeply into their son’s behaviour and interest in the war, they noticed some astonishing coincidences. The details young James was relating matched historical facts. The Natoma Bay was an actual ship that fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. The names of people James talked about in his dreams were members of the flight crew on that ship. One of the pilot shot down had been named James. They began to suspect that their son might be the reincarnation of that pilot. With the help of Carol Bowman, a therapist known for her work on cases of reincarnation in young children, the Leiningers began to listen empathetically to their son. What they saw and heard in his words and behaviour only further supported their suspicion. They became convinced, even if reluctantly in the case of Jame’s father, that their son had lived a past life as James Huston, who was shot down in his plane over the Pacific during the battle of Iwo Jima.
This brief synopsis should be enough to give you a sense of why many have thought that the best explanation of Jame Leninger’s dreams and behaviour is that his is a case of reincarnation. This was a very young child demonstrating a fascination with certain kinds of aircraft and an apparent knowledge of particular historical people and events in ways that suggested that he was personally and deeply attached to them. It will come as no surprise, we’re sure, to learn that we are not convinced by the reincarnation hypothesis. It may be one possible explanation of things, but it is not an especially compelling explanation. This becomes clear once we take account of the full range of factors, including both details of James Leininger’s life and the overall explanatory context.

First of all, a young boy’s fascination with airplanes, even airplanes of a very particular make and model, should strike no one as remarkable in the least.
In general, and as every parent knows, young children become obsessed with people, places, and things. Often, these obsessions are often explained by exposure to the person or things…But sometimes, these obsessions should seem to come out of the blue. It would be rash, however, to claim that just because one cannot understand how a child came to be fixated on something, the explanation must be supernatural. It is better to think, instead, that one has simply missed or forgotten something relevant to explaining how the obsession began.
Jame Leininger’s obsession with WWII airplanes may strike one as an outlier, perhaps, because it is coupled with extensive knowledge of facts about both the aircraft and historical people and events. But before we jump to the conclusion that the best way to explain what is going on here is to appeal to reincarnation, we should consider whether there are any promising avenues for explaining things by more conventional means. And there does seem to be some possibilities here.

Consider the fact that the Leiningers visited a flight museum when James was eighteen months old. During their visit, James walked around the very type of planes he later claimed to have been flying in his dreams, Corsairs. His parents have even claimed that he looked like he was conducting a flight check. Noting this detail about Jame’s life seems like a promising start for provinding an explanation of his obsession with ww2 aircraft, and his fixation on Corsairs in particular. By all accounts, James was a very bright child. It is possible that a bright 18-month-old could absorb many details at the air museum, especially in conjunction with listening to his parents or tour guides or others discussing the displays. James may not have had the ability at 18 months to put these experiences into words and express them verbally, but many of the details might have registered. Later, when he developed the capacity to verbalise, James would have been able to express the information that had registered earlier. We can thus begin to make sense of why James Leininger was so obsessed with World War II aircraft and how he knew what seemed like an uncanny amount about them. And we can do so without appealing to anything supernatural.

Even if James Leininger’s detailed knowledge of WW2 aircraft were to be explained in this way, it may still seem as though the case presents a serious puzzle. How could James have known the names of the people he recounted as being there with in his dreams?

We are not at all sure how the explanation of these facts is supposed to go.
But it does seem possible to explain them without invoking reincarnation. Perhaps James heard these names somewhere. Maybe they were mentioned in a television program he saw (the Leiningers admit to conversing with James about a television program on World War II aircraft on the History Channel) or a book or museum panel someone (perhaps his parents) read to him. Perhaps his parents mentioned them in conversations at home. Children are incredibly perceptive, and their memories often outstrip those of adults. Given that he was obsessed with WWII aircraft, it’d be no surprise if James soaked up titbits of information that went in one ear and out the other for those less intent on the subject.

Once his parents and other adults began to ask him about these things, it would not be surprising if Jame’s interest in them increased. He may even have begun to seek out more information about these matters out of a desire to please his parents or other authority figures, such as Carol Bowman and Jim Tucker (another expert on reincarnation), who interviewed him in relation to the possibility that he was reincarnated.
The presence and interests of these people would be powerful influences on a young person at an age when the desire to please an adult authority figure is great. So there might have been a symbiosis between young Jame’s desire to please and his parents’ and certain researchers’ beliefs and prior assumptions about what was happening in his case. This could have led to Jame’s telling a story that suggested he was reincarnated, when in fact he was not.
Indeed, it would not be surprising if James Leininger came to “remember” events from a past life due to repeated, and possibly leading, questioning from his parents and other adults. It is a commonplace that the testimony of children is quite suggestible, and three- and four-year-olds have been shown to be more suggestible than even five- and six-year-olds.
Among the factors thought to explain the phenomenon of suggestibility in children are, first, that their memories are not as firmly implanted as those in older people and, second, that the mechanism for protecting and monitoring memories against suggestive intrusions are not as robust in young children as in older people. If James was repeatedly questioned about his dreams and his claims about a past life, especially by people who were themselves of the opinion that he had a past life, it would be consistent with psychologists’ understanding of how memory works in young children to suppose that he came to falsely remember and report various facts and events..

We stress that we do not take ourselves to have provided adequate explanation of the Leininger case. That is not our aim. What we hope to have done is to have shown how the approach we’ve been sketching in this book may be applied to this case.
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Now, the authors themselves admit it is hard to account for the specific details given by James.

 

Systematic investigation of the case

In what follows, I shall examine different elements that have been claimed to show that James had memories of a past life.

 

 

At two-year of age, James was described as being “the centrepiece of a loving family of three living on the soft coastal plane of southern Louisiana” and Andrea’s “first and only child”.

But Bruce Leininger had four children from a previous marriage.
They didn’t live with James’ half-siblings so that the latter could hardly have contaminated their little brother’s memories.

 

Natoma’s bay

 

How likely is that little James took in the name “Natoma Bay” while visiting the Cavanaugh Flight Museum as he was 18 months-old?

USS_Natoma_Bay_(CVE-62)_at_Tulagi_on_8_April_1944_(80-G-235018)

Before 2001, there is only one obscure book “USS Natoma Bay (CVE 62), VC 63, VC 81, VC9” written by the “Natoma Bay Association” dedicated to the plane carrier.

Otherwise, the boat is only mentioned in one or two lines of books dealing with WW2 planes.

In the great scheme of things, the Natoma Bay was really insignificant.

Given the fact that the Cavanaugh Flight Museum is an aviation museum for the general public and not for WW2 aviation specialists, it seems very unlikely they would have mentioned the word “Natoma Bay” and it seems even dubious they would have known that name by heart.

It seems also very unlikely that a knowledgeable visitor would have been present at the right moment and would have said the words.

 

What is more, while little James might have been very astute, he was only 18-months of age!
It seems implausible (albeit not impossible) he would have picked up a funny name and have correctly identified it conceptually in order to retrieve it later on.

Could “Natoma Bay” have been mentioned in a TV show James listened to?

As the carrier wasn’t significant, this is  implausible. I am open to challenges if some reader can found documentaries where it is mentioned.

 

Given all of that, it appears unlikely that little James would have found the name “Natoma Bay”.

 

Jack Larsen

The next puzzle concerns “Jack Larsen”. Of course, James had no idea that there was a “Jack Larsen” on the “Natoma Bay”.

And in comparison to “John Brown” or “Bill Smith”, “Jack Larsen” wasn’t such an usual name for a 2 years-old to come up with.

So it seems again very unlikely he would find by chance the name of a “Jack Larsen”who happened to have been a comrade of James Huston Jr. on the Natoma Bay.

 

James’ GI Joes.

 

Jamees had three GI Joes with peculiar names.
“Hey, how come you named your GI Joes, Billy and Leon and Walter?”

Bruce’s parents knew no Leon and Walter.

“Because that’s who met me when I got to heaven.” James answered.

Then he turned and went back to play.

Bruce snatched a piece of paper and read it. He read it again but couldn’t bring himself to say what was on his mind.

He was holding the list of names of the men who were killed aboard Natoma Bay. He handled it to Andrea. On the list were James M. Huston Jr., Billy Peeler, Leon Conner, and Walter Devlin. Bruce gave her a flat look, then started shuffling and tossing papers around again. He had files with dates and details and could conjure up the records in a flash.
“They were all in the same squadron”, Bruce said. “VC-81.”

The three men were already dead when James Huston was killed.

Leon had blond hair exactly like James’ namesake GI Joe according to his cousin Gwen.
“He was an ideal boy: six feet tall, blond, blue-eyed, a football star who also played the violin.”

 

The final action figure [Walter] had auburn, almost red hair.

He was described as “Irish, with all that big red hair.”

The action Figure Billy himself was Brown-haired as Billy Peeler based on his photo.

 

Little James had no plausible way to find these names and these pieces information.

 

Given that, it is very unlikely he would have, by chance, found the right names of his deceased comrades (two of which aren’t that common) and able to associate them to the right hair colour.

 

James Huston Junior’s sister Annie

 

James’ place in the family

James correctly called James Huston Junior’s sister “Annie”, as only her brother called her that way.

He told Andrea that he had another sister, Ruth. Only he pronounced it “Roof”. She was four years older than Annie and Annie was four years older than James. When Andrea checked with Anne Barron, she said it was all accurate. Ruth was the oldest by four years, James the youngest by four years”.

Of course, this relies on Anne’s memory but the year of birth of one’s sibling is something almost all of us remembers very well.
It is at least remarkable he knew the name of the oldest sister and it seems unlikely he would have guessed it or sneak into his dad’s newspapers to find it.

 

Personal detail about the Huston’s family life

Things get a bit more ambiguous here.

We read: “Five-year-old James knew about their father’s alcoholism. He knew all the family secrets with a familiar intimacy.”

Here, we might envision that “Annie” asked leading questions to James.

“For instance, James recalled in surprising detail when his father’s alcoholism got so bad that he smashed things and had to go into rehab, he knew all about that”.

On the other hand, it also seems unlikely that Anne would herself take the initiative to mention such traumatising details to a five-year-old boy.

According to Jim Tucker, James already spoke of the alcoholism of his “father” when his real mother Andrea entered into his room with a glass of wine.

Given that, it appears likely that James did recall such details on his own, but this isn’t very evidential as this cannot be strictly shown.

James 3

James signed some of his drawing “James 3”. When he was asked why he signed them “James 3”, he said simply “Because I am the third James. I am James 3”.

If the parents recalled correctly, this would be a remarkable coincidence as the other James was James Houston Jr.

However, they might also have unconsciously put this into their son’s mouth in hindsight but that doesn’t seem likely.

According to Jim Tucker, James continued to produce the same drawing even when he was four-years-old.

Bob Greenwalt

 

Bruce brought James to a meeting of the veterans of the Natoma Bay.

 

The man looked down at James and asked in a hearty, robust voice,
“Do you know who I am?”
James looked him in the eye, thought for a second, and replied,
“You’re Bob Greenwalt.”

“How did you know that?” asked Bruce.
“I recognised his voice,” he told his father.

 

Now, if James had never heard the name “Bob Greenwalt”, this fact alone would strongly point toward a paranormal phenomenon.
But is this the case?

No.

One night, Andrea received a call from Bob Greenwalt she transferred to Bruce.
“A Bob Greenwalt want to talk with you” she said.
“I know who Bob Greenwalt was…” answered Bruce.

 

It cannot be conclusively ruled out that James heard half-consciously the name and some strong features of the voice because the mother might have activated the loud speaker.

 

Prenatal choice of his parents

 

One of the most puzzling episode concerns little James “choosing” his parents shortly before his birth.

“One day, after raking leaves together, Bruce told James how happy he was to have him as a son. James replied, “That’s why I picked you; I know you would be a good daddy.” Bruce did not understand. James continued:

When I found you and Mommy, I knew you would be good to me.”

“Where did you find us?”

“Hawaii. . . . I found you at the big pink hotel. . . . I found you on the beach. You were eating dinner at night.”

Bruce was dumbfounded. In 1977, Bruce and Andrew indeed went to Hawaii and stayed at the Royal Hawaii, a pink hotel on Waikiki beach. On the last evening, they had a moonlight dinner at the beach. Five weeks later, Andrea became pregnant with James.”

Unfortunately, we cannot entirely rule out the possibility that James saw the picture of the pink hotel and of the dinner at the beach somewhere in the house.

This doesn’t appear particularly likely because the parents would have remembered the pictures but this cannot be dismissed out of hand either.

Misidentification of the corsair

We now finally come to the only argument AGAINST the reincarnation hypothesis.

An exception was that Huston was shot down in a FM2 Wildcat, not a Corsair: veterans could recall no Corsairs on Natoma Bay. Nor could the details of James’s account of the plane being shot down be confirmed. However, a visit to Huston’s sister Anne Barron uncovered a photograph of Huston standing in front of a Corsair, confirming that at one time he flew this aircraft.

But even if James Leininger was really the reincarnation of James Huston Jr., we don’t have to expect that his memories would always be clear and precise.

What is more, Tucker contacted the Cavanaugh Flight Museum and learned that it had no Corsair on display between 1999 and 2003, the time period of James’s first two visits, so that this description cannot come from his early visit to the museum.

Under the hypothesis of reincarnation, it is not unreasonable to believe that James could confuse the plane he died in with a plane he was also familiar with.

Battle of Iwo Jima

Iwo-Jima

As the battle of Iwo Jima was very famous, it is not astounding that James Leiniger would be exposed to it or claimed he had died there.

That said, it is certainly curious that the only member of the Natoma Bay who died there was James Huston Jr.

Conclusion

The James Leininger’s putative reincarnation case is a complex one.

Many elements can be well explained through foreknowledge, suggestion and false memories.

It is, for example, conceivable that James was able to correctly identify Bob Greenwalt’s voice and describe his parents’ evening at Hawaii before his birth thanks to sensory clues and foreknowledge.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that little James would have come up with “Natoma” as that ship was rather insignificant and hardly mentioned to the general public. It is very unlikely he would, by chance, utter the uncommon name “Jack Larsen” who appears to be a member of that very ship’s crew. It is very unlikely he would have christened his three GI Joes according to the names and appearances of his real colleagues Billy, Walter and Leon while remembering having seen them in Heaven and it is really dubious he could have gleaned that information by sneaking into his father’s documents.

In light of this, other less evidential elements (such as James’s mentioning the alcoholism of his former “father” to Annie, “James 3”, his death at the battle of Iwo Jima and his seeing his parent before his birth ) reinforce the credibility of the case.

Does that mean we must believe in the reality of reincarnation?
The answer is a resounding NO.

Very unlikely combinations of events are bound to happen.

 

I do think, however, that sceptics need to recognise that this case is highly anomalous.

 

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Turning machines into angels

Okay, this isn’t gonna be a deep philosophical analysis of the problem but the very first poem I wrote in English 🙂

Lost wanderer by firepaved

Take heart, hopeless wanderer!
Before your eyes are so many wonders.

You’ve been living like a worthless worm for all these years
But you shall die like a god when everything is made clear.

The feeling of your breath through your nostrils can only be a divine gift
The atoms dancing around in your head could never bring about your bliss.

You cannot know if the world you’ve been so assiduously studying is real.
But there can be no such doubt about the pain of your heart you constantly feel.

So are you an obsolete machine that will trail off into nothingness?
Or are you an amnesiac angel that shall at last experience fullness?

 

Copyright Lotharson 2017.

 

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On the prior probability of Jesus’ resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth after his unjust death stands at the very heart of the Christian faith.

Jesus_resurrection

If materialism is true, it goes without saying that the prior plausibility of a corpse coming back to life through random physical processes is extremely small.

However, some atheist apologists go farther than that and argue that even if God existed, the probability of His raising Jesus from the dead would be incredibly low.

 

Atheistic philosopher Jeffery Jay Lowder (who is a nice, respectful, well-articulated, intelligent and decent man) put it like this:

B3: Approximately 107,702,707,791 humans have ever lived. Approximately half of them have been male.
B4: God, if He exists, has resurrected from the dead at most only one person (Jesus).

B3 and B4 are significant because they summarize the relevant evidence about God’s tendency to resurrect people from the dead (assuming God exists). They show why the resurrection has a low prior probability even for theists. Once we take B3 and B4 into account, the prior probability of the resurrection is less than or equal to 5.0 x 10-12. In symbols, Pr(R | B1 & B3 & B4) <= 5.0 x 10-12.

 

I shall reformulate his argument in a simpler way while emphasising a most problematic hidden assumption.

  1. From the 100 000 000 humans who have ever lived under the sun, none has been resurrected by God’s mighty hands.
  2. Consequently, the probability that a human being chosen at random gets raised from the dead is less than 10-11.

3. God would be as interested in resurrecting Jesus as he would be in resurrecting a random human being.

4. Hence the prior probability of Jesus’ resurrection is less than 10-11.

Although premise 1) might be begging the question against claims of miracles, I shall accept it as true.

Premise 2) is totally uncontroversial. So what truly stands in the way of the conclusion is premise 3).

Why on earth should we assume that Jesus was only a random human being to God? This probability seems unknown to me unless one makes assumptions about the divine Being, i.e. one engages in theology.

(The are good articles written by professional philosopher of science John Norton explaining why epistemic ignorance cannot be represented by a probability distribution [1], [2], [3])

Lowder seems to be aware of this. A (godless) commenter wrote:

“Your estimate of 5.0 x 10-12. assumes that Jesus is a typical human. But if not, if B1A: Jesus is the second person of the Trinity is true, P(B2) becomes much higher, possibly of order 1. In that case the relevant unknown is P(B1A | B1). While that may be small, I doubt if it’s anywhere near as small as 5.0 x 10-12.”

His response was:

“There are not any reliable statistics for the reference class of men who are the second person of the Trinity. Thus, the reference class that must be used is the broadest one for which we have reliable statistics, viz., men.”

But this is clearly begging the question.

  • Why should we  assume that Jesus was a random human being to God?
  • Because this is the only way we can approximately calculate the prior probability of his resurrection.
  • And why should we assume that this value approximates anything if we don’t know whether or not he was just an ordinary man to God?

So I think that unbelievers cannot argue from ignorance here. They should instead give us positive grounds for thinking that Jesus wasn’t special to God.

jesus

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Can materialism be true at all?

Materialism is the belief that matter is the ultimate reality, that is to say that everything is material so that there are no such things as souls or numbers.

materialism-cosmos.jpg

In a previous post, I argued that materialism seems to be self-contradictory because the concept of “everything” appears to be irreducible to anything more fundamental.

In the following blog post, I want to reformulate my argument in a way that makes it easier to be analysed and criticised.

It basically goes like this:

1) According to materialism, every truth corresponds to a material state of affairs independent of human language, i.e. a combination of interacting particles located in space and time.

2) But the truth of materialism itself cannot correspond to any such combination of spatially and temporally located interacting particles.

3) Hence materialism cannot be true.

3) is entailed by 1) and 2).

Consequently, you have to reject at least one of these to avoid the conclusion.

Can the truth of materialism correspond to a material state of affairs?

First of all, readers might be astounded by my assertion in 2). I shall try to lay out here what I mean by it.

The truth of materialism means that ALL things are material. This in itself consists of two conditions.

A) Entity 1, entity 2…entity n (whereby n can be infinite) are material, that is to say combinations of interacting particles located in time and space.

B) Entity 1, entity 2…entity n (whereby n can be infinite) are everything that exists.

This is illustrated in the following figure.

Cosmos-materialism

Materialism cannot just depend on condition A). For it not only entails that the entities in the circle are material but also that they are ALL THERE IS, so that there is NOTHING outside the circle.

And that very property can neither be located in space nor in time. Nor can it consist of 100,00; 10E+34 or any other number of particles.

What are truths under materialism?

This naturally leads us to examine claim 1).

All materialists are nominalists which means that they reject the existence of abstract objects (such as numbers) that they view as useful human conventions aiming at describing the natural world.

They also believe that truths such as “It is dangerous to drive after having drunk a bottle of Vodka in five minutes” are ultimately nothing more than the product of human language describing material states of affairs, i.e. a representation in our brains of facts of the external world.

vodka

In that particular case, there is nothing over and above the fact that almost every actual human being having ever been in that state is totally incapable of coordinating a complex activity such as steering a car.

Now, what would it mean to reject claim 1)?

A first option would be to reject my assertion that a material state of affairs has to be a combination of particles located in time and space. It is certainly true that materialism itself isn’t well defined. But all materialists I know believe there are no objects outside of time and space and I think that any view denying this would deserve another name altogether.

Finally, you can reject my claim that materialism implies that every truth corresponds to a material state of affairs. That might perhaps be the best way to defeat my argument.
But at the moment, I fail to see how this could make any sense. Basically, this would amount to saying: “Everything is material but certain truths go beyond the material world” which sounds self-contradictory to me.

So I am under the impression that materialism cannot possibly be true.

I’d certainly be glad to learn where you think my reasoning is mistaken.

Objections

Could material facts account for the non-existence of any immaterial realms?

Someone objected that I haven’t proven that “there exists no immaterial realms” cannot correspond to a complex set of material states of affairs.

For materialism to be true, there must not be any immaterial parallel realm which has never been and will never be connected with our universe and has no common origin with it.

Could the particles in our universe along with their physical properties render the existence of such a realm impossible ?

Now, the state of the elementary particles making up our universe can have no logical consequence on a realm of existence that has never interacted and will never interact with them and that does not share any common origin with them.

This just isn’t possible unless the particles have some metaphysical power and would, thus, cease to be physical particles.

So I think that premise 2) is the safest part of my reasoning. Regardless of their spatial distribution and energy levels, the elementary particles our universe (or multiverse) is composed of cannot account for the fact of there not being anything else.

 

Why can’t “everything is material” just be such a material fact?

Someone said that my argument is fundamentally flawed because “everything is material” is a perfectly fine material fact.

At this point, it is important to reflect on the role of language and truth. For a materialist, concepts such as numbers, triangles, everything or nothing are only useful human conventions aiming at describing the empirical world. According to materialism, every truth corresponds to a material state of affairs independent on human language such as the temperature distribution on the surface of the sun.

So the sentences “there are no immaterial realms“, “The material multiverse is all there is” etc. aren’t physical facts as explained in premise 2).

Instead, if they were true they would be metaphysical facts as they would go beyond the physical world.

Whenever we imagine that the universe (or multiverse) is all that there is, we consider “everything” and “nothing” to be real features of the external reality rather than mere human conventions.

 

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Healing from toxic group thinking

I recently stumbled across an article written by Establishment Liberals.

images

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Everyday Feminism presents:

Healing from Toxic Whiteness 

~ an online training program for white people commited to racial justice ~

If there was ever a time in recent history for white people to take action to end racism, this is it.  

Trump’s presidency has shaken white people’s understanding of racism to its core. It’s revealed what many people of color have known and been naming for generations – that the US has deeply normalized white supremacy and is built on a foundation of systemic oppression.

As a white person dedicated to social justice, you knew how racist Trump’s campaign was – but perhaps you didn’t know how capable so many white people, perhaps including your own family and friends, were of electing him.

You may be finding yourself coming to terms with just how prevalent and harmful white supremacy is – and how your white privilege has kept you ignorant and in denial of this reality in the first place.  

So with Trump’s policies starting to roll out, you know you want to be fighting alongside people of color. But you also know that you may feel frozen in place by the feelings of shock, confusion, denial, and guilt that many white people have been dealing with since the election.

It’s understandable for white people to have those feelings as they begin to notice we don’t live in a post-racial society as we’ve been taught and how pervasive systemic racism actually is. 

You just don’t want those feelings to stop you from taking action. 

This starts with not running away from the racism that exists both within yourself and your communities. Instead, it means acknowledging it – and that is a painful process. 

With our unique Compassionate Activism approach, you can learn how to hold that pain of racism in a way that’s healing and comes from a place of love and justice. 

That way, you become increasingly free to take action against white supremacy – from a sense of wholeness and shared humanity.

Once you notice just how insidious and ingrained racism really is – and how often you find yourself unintentionally upholding it – it can feel like your whole worldview is being shaken.  

As you think about what you personally can do to address racism, you may find yourself wrestling with questions like:  

  • How can I make sure I don’t accidentally say something that’s racist and hurts people I care about? 
  • I know I need to speak up against racism more, but when does speaking up cross the line into speaking over people of color? 
  • What do I do when I discover I’ve been subconsciously stereotyping and judging people of color?
  • I feel so guilty about having white privilege, but am I really willing to give up that privilege? Do I even know what that means? 
  • How can I figure out what I should be doing to fight racism without burdening people of color by constantly asking them what I should do? 
  • How do I deal with the fact that I’m scared to talk to other white people about racism when they often get really angry at me?

 

Once you notice just how insidious and ingrained racism really is – and how often you find yourself unintentionally upholding it – it can feel like your whole worldview is being shaken.  

As you think about what you personally can do to address racism, you may find yourself wrestling with questions like:  

  • How can I make sure I don’t accidentally say something that’s racist and hurts people I care about? 
  • I know I need to speak up against racism more, but when does speaking up cross the line into speaking over people of color? 
  • What do I do when I discover I’ve been subconsciously stereotyping and judging people of color?
  • I feel so guilty about having white privilege, but am I really willing to give up that privilege? Do I even know what that means? 
  • How can I figure out what I should be doing to fight racism without burdening people of color by constantly asking them what I should do? 
  • How do I deal with the fact that I’m scared to talk to other white people about racism when they often get really angry at me?

 

or white people to truly engage in anti-racism work, they must first engage with their unconscious conditioning to think and act in racist ways.

This is often the first obstacle in approaching this work – and because it is so normalized and insidious, it can feel insurmountable. 

While white people are not inherently or inevitably racist, they are all raised in societies built on systemic racism and have been bombarded since birth with conflicting messages that teach them to: 

  • Think and act in racist ways that personally benefit them at the expense of communities of color 
  • View these racist behaviors as either racially neutral or even actively anti-racist (like being “colorblind”) 
  • Believe that since they don’t personally benefit or intentionally engage in racism, they have no personal responsibility to do anything to end it 
  • Not notice how our society is structured so that white people are seen as full human beings and treated as “normal,” while people of color are seen as stereotypes and treated as less then
  • Believe that being racist is one of the worst things you can be, in order to scare them from acknowleding the racism inside of them

This means the question needs to shift from “Am I a racist?” to “How will I work towards undoing the racism I was raised with and have internalized?” 

Because while we’d all love it if we could jump from being raised in a deeply racist society to becoming completely anti-racist, it doesn’t work like that.  

The desire to not be racist is not enough, by itself, to stop someone from being racist. 

By becoming conscious of your own conditioning, you will be able to choose whether or not to continue to do as you’ve been taught, or to act in accordance with your values of justice and humanity.  

This can be a painful and disruptive process – but the only way out is through.

***************************************

I hardly know where to begin with.

1) How do you DEFINE “white supremacism”?

Is it the will to uphold a privileged place for white people?

If so, many (and probably most) electors of Trump aren’t white supremacists as they have nothing against blacks sharing their worldview (such as Ben Carson) being in a position of power. Actually, most of Ben Carson’s electors voted for Trump.

2) That sounds like preaching to the convert to me. To an outsider like myself, this rings as weird as the proclamation of a fundamentalist preacher. Basically, Establishment Liberalism has all the hallmarks of a dogmatic religion.

3) All the racist attitudes she describes can also stem from blacks and latinos. You cannot fight white racism while tolerating or promoting a racist mindset among other ethnic groups. We should all refrain from depriving other people of their individuality because of their ethnicity.

4) It is true that we all have unholy prejudices against other people, even if we don’t want to.
But there is no evidence that it is systematically directed towards black and brown people.
In France, many people who passionately hate Muslims would have no problem hiring a black Christian or secular woman.

5) “Not notice how our society is structured so that white people are seen as full human beings and treated as “normal,” while people of color are seen as stereotypes and treated as less then

This was entirely true at the time of Dr. Martin Luther King. But nowadays, I think that many upper-class and middle-class black people are treated like their white counterparts.

6) Many white people are “defensive” because we have the feeling that we are unfairly SINGLED OUT as the worst type of human beings and that we can never be the victims of oppression.
What about the holocaust where 6 millions of white people were butchered by other white people?
It is extremely frustrating that these Establishment Feminists ignore the Arab slave trade against black Africans and white Europeans which was very soon associated with systematic racism.

arab-slave-trade
What about the genocide of the Indo-European Arminians by the Turks?

I totally support an anti-racism which fights both the prejudices of whites and non-whites.

7) What about other causes of oppression such as poverty and mental health problems which affect whites and non-whites alike? Why is it that Establishment Liberals almost never say anything against that?

One likely explanation is that they are the USEFUL IDIOTS of corrupt oligarchs who want to uphold their economic privileges.

8) I’d be truly delighted if social justice warriors reading that were to call me a “white supremacist” or even “neo-nazi”.

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Thinking critically about false memories

Introducing false memories

Many of us recognise intuitively that our memories aren’t perfect and that we can not only forget things but also misremember others.

falsememories
False memories?

False memory research is a burgeoning field where scientists systematically study the fallibility and malleability of human memory.

Their findings can be divided into two categories.

  1. Spontaneous false memories

People can naturally mistake the face of an innocent for that of a rapist, confuse road signs seen during an accident, believe that the car collision was more violent if “crashed into” is used rather than “ran into” during the questioning and so on and so forth.

2. “Unnatural” false memories

The most spectacular forms of false memories are doubtlessly people misremembering being victims of satanic ritual or abducted by space aliens.

The genesis of such fictional memories generally follow these steps:

a) The person goes to a therapist with unspecific problems such as depression, overweight or anxiety.

b) The therapist convinces the person that it is likely he or she had a terrible experience she has repressed.

c) The therapist uses suggestive methods (such as hypnosis) to push the person to try to remember what she allegedly went through.

d) The persons gets persuaded she really experienced all these things.

recovered-memory
So-called “recovered memories”

Plenty of experimental studies have shown that manipulative techniques can spawn entirely fictional memories.

For instance, the cognitive psychologist can tell the test subject that his parents reported he was lost in a mall as a child and give him some true details related to his childhood in order that he gets convinced the person conducting the test really knows of his past. Researchers also often tell subjects to remember real past events in order to increase their confidence in the procedure.

And then, they are asked to imagine having experienced the fictional event. The subjects generally don’t remember it at first but after three sessions of suggestive imagination, many of them can form vivid memories of having gone through this.

The same method can even be applied to a fictional criminal action such as assaulting someone with a weapon or being viciously attacked by an animal.

In any case, there appears to be two necessary conditions for the genesis of such “big” false memories.

a) The person believes that the cognitive psychologist or therapist is in a position to know things about their past they don’t remember.

b) Suggestive techniques (whereby the person imagines having experienced these things) are used.

If these two conditions are satisfied, a certain number of test subjects confuse their imagining the false event with their remembering it really happened.

There is one important limitation of these studies which is often missed out on, though.

To the best of my knowledge, such radical false memories (also called “full” false memories” as the event never occurred) almost always come up through (conscious or unconscious) manipulation and not spontaneously.
(An exception might be memories “retrieved” many decades after an event such as being bombarded during World War 2).

In other words, it is statistically highly unlikely that a woman having kissed a man during an evening would remember being raped by him four years later without any manipulation (assuming she wasn’t raped by anyone in between).

And if this happens, you can bet a lot of money she has some serious mental health issues.

Hillary Clinton’s bizarre “false memories”

During the presidential campaign of 2008, Hillary Clinton was harshly criticised after having claimed she landed under sniper fire in Bosnia whereas she actually took part in a peaceful ceremony.

A memory researcher tried to attribute this to false memories.

*******************

It would be a horrible cliché to begin a post about the reconstructive nature of autobiographical memory with a Proust quote, so instead I’ll begin with something only slightly less cliché: beginning something about memory by talking about my own experience. You see, I’m southern, as anyone who’s ever heard me pronounce the words “pen” and “pin” exactly the same, or refer to any soft drink as a “coke,” can attest. In the south, it’s not uncommon to find people sitting around a grill, or a kitchen table, or pretty much anything you can sit around, participating in what might be described as story contests. These are basically pissing contests, but with words instead of, well, other stuff. The contest usually begins with someone telling a crazy story (usually from their youth), which is followed by someone else telling an even crazier story, and so on, back and forth, until someone tells a story so crazy that nothing believable could ever top it. Now, it goes without saying that these contests involve a great deal of, shall we say, creative interpretation of the events being described. And of course, everyone involved is well aware of this. In fact, because the same people often participate in these contests with each other over the years, you can actually watch the stories change: what started as a mildly dangerous activity changes to an extremely dangerous one, then a deadly one, and ultimately, in the “same” story, the story-teller barely cheated Death. The fish you caught became bigger, and the struggle with the one that got away longer and more grueling.

I’ve participated in many of these contests over the years, and generally do pretty well, because I’ve done a lot of stupid things that really did involve an uncomfortable proximity to death, and as anyone who knows me will readily tell you, I have an uncanny ability to hurt myself in bizarre ways (like the time I got a pencil stuck deep between two toes when I tripped on an Afghan blanket). As I’ve told my stories over the years (I have a long list of them ready to be told at a moment’s notice), and… umm… creatively interpreted them to make them more exciting (than the other person’s), I’ve added a detail here, or increased a measurement (by an order of magnitude) there. That’s just the way the game works.

But here’s the thing: in many cases, I don’t remember which parts really happened and which parts I added for effect in the course of one of those contests. This is a simple case of source monitoring failure. I can’t tell whether I’m remembering the event itself or one of the times I told the story of the event. And what’s worse, the vividness of the memory, or how much I can picture it in my head, doesn’t help, because my brain is just as good at coming up with images of things I made up creatively interpreted as it is at coming up with images of things that actually happened. The reason for this, of course that when my brain is remembering something, it’s just putting it together on the fly from bits and associated pieces. And every time I recall an episode, that recall becomes another associated episode, and the memory for the original episode is therefore altered, making it really easily to mistakenly recall things you thought or said about the episode long after it happened as part of the original episode. In other words, memory is just a form of makin’ shit up.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, if you’ve been following politics at all, you’ve no doubt heard about Hillary Clinton’s latest gaffe. In a speech last week, she said this about a trip to Bosnia in 1996:

I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia… we came in in an evasive maneuver… I remember landing under sniper fire… there was no greeting ceremony… we ran with our heads down, we basically were told to run to our cars… there was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, we basically were told to run to our cars, that is what happened.

Sounds harrowing, right? Well, it turns out that it didn’t really happen that way, and there’s video to prove it. It seems there weren’t any snipers, or evasive maneuvers, and instead of running to the cars with their heads down, they had a little ceremony on the tarmac. Oops.

Since it became clear that Clinton’s story wasn’t accurate, bloggers and the mainstream media have been taking her to task, and understandably so. If you’re telling a story that’s supposed to demonstrate your experience with dangerous foreign policy situations, and it turns out the story isn’t really true, you’re going to hear about it. But I think it’s unfair to accuse Clinton of lying. Don’t get me wrong, I think all politicians lie, and I’m no fan of Clinton (I voted for her opponent in my state’s primary), but this appears to be a pretty straightforward failure of memory to me, and I’d bet a lot of money that source monitoring has its dirty little hand in it.

To see why I think this is a memory rather than honesty issue, read the following recollection of the trip by Lissa Muscatine, who was on the plane with Clinton (from here):

I was on the plane with then First Lady Hillary Clinton for the trip from Germany into Bosnia in 1996. We were put on a C17– a plane capable of steep ascents and descents — precisely because we were flying into what was considered a combat zone. We were issued flak jackets for the final leg because of possible sniper fire near Tuzla. As an additional precaution, the First Lady and Chelsea were moved to the armored cockpit for the descent into Tuzla. We were told that a welcoming ceremony on the tarmac might be canceled because of sniper fire in the hills surrounding the air strip. From Tuzla, Hillary flew to two outposts in Bosnia with gunships escorting her helicopter.

Add to that the report by a U.S. general who was there on the ground that they were aware of security threats at the time, and the interference of all the other landings that Clinton made in Europe and elsewhere, plus the fact that Senator Clinton has likely told this story many times (it’s in one of her books), and you’ve got a situation that’s ripe for source monitoring errors.

Let’s look at what might have happened. In Germany, Clinton got on a plane that was used specifically because of its ability to maneuver during landings to avoid incoming fire. Undoubtedly, they were told that this was the reason for using the plane. They had flak jackets and Clinton was put into the armored cockpit for the descent, again as a precaution against incoming fire. Add to this the fact that there were credible threats, meaning she was probably rather anxious, and we all know that stress doesn’t make for better overall memory, even if it makes us remember perceptual details better. Hell, maybe even Clinton and her entourage were rushed, after the meeting on the tarmac, to their cars because they were on a tight schedule (not because of the threats), and you get a situation that’s easily distorted by the reconstructive processes of memory into something like the version that Clinton told. In fact, I’d bet that they even told Clinton or someone on her team that in the case of incoming fire, they would have to be rush to their cars with their heads down, instead of having the scheduled ceremony on the tarmac. All this could easily add up to a memory in which the threat, the fear, the flak jackets, etc., add up to a difficulty in remembering what actually happened and what she was afraid might happened. And the fact that Clinton seems to remember it so vividly, contrary to being evidence that she’s lying, is likely just a product of her brain filling in the gaps and building a coherent representation of the episode, just like it’s supposed to do.

None of this makes Clinton’s version of the events in Bosnia in 1996 more accurate, of course, nor does it excuse her and her campaign from not quickly verifying her memory to make sure she wasn’t misremembering. But it doesn’t mean she’s lying, either, and since she’s clearly a rational and intelligent person, it’s unlikely she’d lie about something that easily verified anyway. Instead, my money’s on a mundane, though potentially costly, error resulting from the reconstructive nature of memory. At least, until someone demonstrates otherwise, I’m willing to give her, and her memory, the benefit of the doubt.

As Montaigne put it, “The memory represents to us not what we choose but what it pleases.” Sorry,I had to end with a cliché too!

********************************************

I think there are many problems which emerge from this account once you start systematically investigating the case.

The chronology of Hillary Clinton’s recounting of the facts

In order to assess the plausibility of any false memories, we must carefully reconstruct the way the story evolved.

detective-work

In this case, it looks like this:

a) In 1996, Clinton went to Bosnia and participated in a peaceful meeting there.

b) In 2003, in her autobiography entitled “Living History”, Clinton stated:

“Security conditions were constantly changing in the former Yugoslavia, and they had recently deteriorated again. Due to reports of snipers in the hills around the airstrip, we were forced to cut short an event on the tarmac with local children, though we did have time to meet them and their teachers and to learn how hard they had worked during the war to continue classes in any safe spot they could find. One eight-year-old girl gave me a copy of a poem she had written entitled ‘Peace.’ “

This story already contains an embellishment as the event was not cut short. But it isn’t far from the truth.

c) December 30, 2007

“We landed in one of those corkscrew landings and ran out because they said there might be sniper fire. I don’t remember anyone offering me tea on the tarmac there.”

Apart from “running out”, this account is remarkably similar to what she wrote in her autobiography. She only spoke of a threat of actual sniper fire in both cases and would certainly have mentioned her real exposure to the danger if she had believed to have experienced that.

d) February 29, 2008

“I remember, particularly, a trip to Bosnia where the welcoming ceremony had to be moved inside because of sniper fire.”

Here, she strongly insinuated that the sniper fire was real rather than a mere potential threat.

e) March 17, 2008

I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.

This is her tallest statement about the story. Here she asserts having fled from actual snipers who were shooting at her.

March 25, 2008

“Now let me tell you what I can remember, OK — because what I was told was that we had to land a certain way and move quickly because of the threat of sniper fire. So I misspoke — I didn’t say that in my book or other times but if I said something that made it seem as though there was actual fire — that’s not what I was told. I was told we had to land a certain way, we had to have our bulletproof stuff on because of the threat of sniper fire. I was also told that the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac but that there was this 8-year-old girl and, I can’t, I can’t rush by her, I’ve got to at least greet her — so I greeted her, I took her stuff and then I left, now that’s my memory of it.”

Revealingly, Clinton did NOT tell: “my most recent memories of the event diverged from what actually happened“.

Instead, she said she was aware all along she wasn’t being shot at by real snipers and tried to put the controversy behind her by saying she “misspoke”.

April 16, 2008

Well Tom I might told you, I may be a lot of things, but I am not dumb…and I wrote about going to Bosnia in my book in 2004. I laid it out there. And you’re right…on a couple of occasions in the last weeks, I just said things that weren’t in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I’ve written about in my book and you know, I am embarrassed by it, I have apologised for it, I’ve said it was a mistake and it is I hope something you can look over.

Evaluation

It is highly dubious that Hillary wouldn’t lie if something can be easily verified. For instance, she denied having changed her mind on gay marriage even though it could be clearly seen she was against it before.

feature-2013-03-hillaryclinton

Whilst Hilary Clinton did speak of having a different memory of the event in Bosnia, she always emphasised after the scandal that she was well aware she didn’t face actual snipers.

It seems unlikely she would have lied about this if she indeed mistakenly and innocently thought it had been the case.

It is also extremely improbable she would come to erroneously believe she faced real snipers within only four months without her memory being manipulated.

For all these reasons, it is very implausible that Hillary Clinton misremembered landing under sniper fire, even though she might have been honestly mistaken about other aspects of her recollection.

Conclusion

Scientists working on false memories have done a very good job by showing the unreliability of alleged “recovered memories” of being abused and by demonstrating that eye witnesses can be wrong about important details related to a criminal case. I don’t want to criticise the value of their research and investigations.

Nevertheless, they haven’t, in my opinion, shown that “human memory is totally unreliable” in that people can spontaneously remember a totally fictional event such as being shot at (except, perhaps, many decades after a traumatic war).

Before being considered genuine cases of false memories, incidents such as Hillary Clinton’s gaffe need to be carefully examined in order to assess the plausibility of false memories having caused them. Alternative explanations (such as that of a megalomaniac lie) need to be carefully ruled out.

It is worth mentioning a similar story.

Newsman Brian William came under heavy criticism after having said the helicopter he was in was hit during the war on Iraq whereas it was actually a helicopter flying 30 minutes ahead of him which had been the victim of the attack.

Bildergebnis für brian williams helicopter

Many specialists have jumped to the conclusion this MUST have been a false memory.

Unfortunately, they failed to critically consider the context. Brian Williams had already strongly embellished the story only one month after the event, he has a stark tendency to aggrandise his role (as can be seen in other cases) and he himself recognised that

This came clearly from a bad urge inside me. This was clearly ego-driven, a desire to better my role in a story I was already in. That’s what I’ve been tearing apart, unpacking and analyzing.”

In his case, mythomania seems a (much) better explanation than the type of false memories found in the general population.

Of practical importance to all of us is the amount of trust we should put in our own memories. I remember the following incident. As I was a teenager, I used to hang out with a guy deeply involved in cannabis traffic. One day, he was tricked by another drug dealer. To avenge himself, he wrote a graffiti insulting that person. Several days later, as my friend and I were sitting in a former washhouse in his village, the other drug dealer showed up along with three or four accomplices. They were armed with heavy baseball bats. I remember laughing out of nervousness. My friend apologised and the men departed. He later rebuked me for having laughed as this might have led them to strike us down or hurt us badly.

Is it possible I dreamed up the whole thing? Yes.

Is it likely? Absolutely not.

I didn’t remember that after a “recovery therapy” or a psychological experiment. Therefore, I feel very confident that the things I mentioned truly occurred, even though I might be mistaken about details (such as the faces and number of the assailants).

Based on both common sense and our current knowledge of memory, I believe this is a rational and healthy way of considering our past.

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Can we define the truth of materialism?

In a previous post, I explained why I believe that materialism (the belief that matter is the only reality) cannot make sense of the truth of materialism.

The Red Spider Nebula: Surfing in Sagittarius - not for the faint-hearted!

My reasoning was hard to follow and this prompted me to try to reformulate my argument.

Platonism and Nominalism

According to Platonism, abstract objects not existing in space and time (such as numbers, mathematical operations, concepts such as “everything“, “nothing” etc.) are real and  necessary to talk about the world.

For instance, while considering the sentence

All roses in my garden are red

rosengarten-seppenrade

a Platonist will consider the words “all” and “red” as examples of abstract objects (or universals) which determine its truth or falsehood.

A Nominalist rejects the existence of abstract objects which are considered to be useful human conventions.

According to them, the above sentence can be rephrased as

“Rose number 1, 2, 3…. and N have roughly the same colour as tomatoes”

thereby seemingly doing away with the indispensability of abstract concepts.

It is important to realise that the plausibility of Nominalism stands and falls with its ability to reformulate such statements without the use of any abstract objects.

If abstract objects can be shown to be indispensable to give a meaning to a true sentence describing the real world, Nominalism is false.

What is the truth of materialism?

Materialists MUST be Nominalists as they reject the existence of anything not located in space and time.

At face value, the truth of materialism can be expressed in different equivalent ways:
Everything is material
There is nothing immaterial
If (any object)* A exists, A is material

If (any object)* A is real, A is material“.
…………..
But is there a way to formulate this proposition without (explicitly and implicitly) appealing to any abstract entities?

It seems to me that in that specific context, all words I have underlined are abstract entities or require the meaning of abstract entities such as existence.

The sentences “there exists no such thing as the concept of existence” or “the concept of reality is not real” appear self-contradictory to me.

Note that I am not saying that the underlined words cannot be interpreted nominallistically in other situations.

But here it seems impossible to me to express the truth of materialism while only appealing to material entities.

If I’m right about that, whenever we assert the truth of materialism, we must resort to non-material concepts. In other words, if the truth of materialism is meaningful, non-material concepts must be meaningful as well.

Conversely, if non-material concepts are meaningless, so is the truth of materialism.

Another way of looking at this is to consider the  truth-value of  materialism, that is to say the state of affairs of the world that would make it true.

Suppose that 2 billions years later, our highly advanced descendants feel confident that they know everything that exists.

Would the state of affairs corresponding to materialism simply be: “Object 1 is material, object 2 is material…object N is material“?

No, for it must also include “And objects 1 to N are everything that exists” or ‘”there is nothing else than objects 1 to N”.

It thus appears that as an ensemble, objects 1 to N must have a non-material property (namely that of exhaustiveness) that is not localised in time and space and cannot be identified with any set of interacting primary particles.

Therefore, the impossibility of defining materialism without relying on immaterial concepts goes hand in hand with the impossibility of it being true.

The Cosmos of materialists
The cosmos in a nutshell. Materialism implies BOTH that the entities in the oval are material and that the oval is all there is. This property of the oval is non-physical in that it cannot be localised in time and space.

I’d be interested to learn if you think I’m wrong and that you know such formulations which do not merely shift the problem. Of course, one solution of the issue might be to use more modest definitions of materialism that do not try to convey the idea of “nothing else”.

Footnotes

*Some might object that the sentence

If (any object) A is real, A is material

can simply be formulated as

If A is real, A is material.

This clearly raises questions about the implicit meaning of A.

The sentences

If love exists, love is material

If telepathy exists, telepathy is material

can obviously  not serve as the definition of materialism, although they naturally follow from its truth.

Nor can this role be played by the sentence

If Lyurmur exists, it is material

which concerns a specific entity called “Lyurmur“.

It is because of mathematical conventions and our use to them that we automatically assume that “A” in the original sentence means “any object having that property“.

It thus follows that we cannot do away with that concept in such a manner.

Objections

A creation of human brains

Someone answered that this isn’t a problem as “everything” can be viewed as an abstraction created by human brains.

If that is the case, without conscious lives in the cosmos, materialism couldn’t be true! Materialism would be a fact of the external world that would not be true if there were no consciousness. That’s certainly a very odd position to hold. Many would say it is plainly absurd as one of the main claims of materialism is the denial that consciousness is anything fundamental.
Moreover, if the concept of “everything” is only a useful convention to simplify our daily talks and theory building, then what does it mean in such a situation where it cannot be reduced to anything else?
I think that the following argument can be developed:
***********************************************************************************************
1) If the sentence M “everything is material” is true, then the concept of “everything” must exist either as such or as something reducible to other concepts or objects and not *merely* as a creation of the brain.
2) In that specific context, “everything” cannot be reduced to more fundamental objects.
3) Hence, if M (materialism) is true, “everything” exists as a fundamental object.
***********************************************************************************************
I have argued for 2) above and believe it is very implausible that anyone could reduce “everything” to something more fundamental and do away with abstract objects.
I shall thus take it for granted.
Denying 1) would mean that “A is…” can be true even though A does not carry any external meaning and is only correlated to a bunch of neurons. That too seems very implausible as the proposition “The fountain of youth is material” and “The fountain of youth is immaterial” are both false if the fountain of youth does not refer to a putative object.
Consequently, it is very hard to see how a materialist can consider that “everything” is nothing more than neural currents without meaning while believing that the sentence “everything is material” is true.
Not a noun?
Another person asserted that “everything is material” is perfectly fine for a materialist as “everything” is a pronoun and not a noun. I don’t think this is the case.

For an abstract object not existing in time and space does not have to be a noun in a specific language.
Consider for example the sentences:
0 roses are red
3 roses are red
7 roses are red
9 roses are red
NO rose is red.
ALL roses are red
EVERY roses are red.

“No”,”All” and “every” are as much abstract objects as “3”, “7” and “9” are.
If “0”, “3”, “7”, “9” have no meaning, neither do the four first sentences.
If “no”, “all” and “every” have no meaning, neither do the three last sentences.

“all” and “every” depend on the concepts of everything in the same way as “something” depends on the concept of something.

The sentence “Fijhfhdfgx is blue” is meaningless without a concept of “Fijhfhdfgx“.

What is more, everything in that context can only mean “every OBJECT” as opposed to “every pineapple or “every wild bears”.

So, I still don’t see how “everything” (every thing) can have a meaning here without the concept of everything and the concept of object.

Replacing “every” by an enumeration
Someone suggested I could just replace “every” by an enumeration of all elements making up reality.

I also first thought of “everything” as a summation (U).
If all the materialist was claiming were that the objects KNOWN TO US are material, an enumeration such as
– This laptop is material
– This rose is material
– Donald Trump’s brain is material
….
would indeed be perfectly correct.
The problem is that most materialists also include all potentially unknown object.And as such, the summation (U) will also have to explicitly mention
and all potential objects we know nothing about are material

so that the problem does remain the same.

This seems to be inevitable. Our descendants in 200 000 000 million years would also face the same problem as they too could not rule out the existence of unknown objects in, say, parallel universes.

So I remain convinced that phrases such as “and nothing else exists” cannot be replaced by any combinations of concrete objects.

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 Actually, in order to avoid a tautology (such as ‘all material things are material’), it appears to me that you must allow for the possibility that the object A could be non-material. And as such, A cannot be considered a physical thing of our universe from the outset without begging the question.