February 1, 2016


The title of this essay was inspired by two documents. One was the encyclopedic History of Civilization by Will Durant and the other The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. As will become apparent these two authors represent opposite poles of human thought and, therefore, suggestions for societal change. I have discussed the Dawkins book in the May 1, 2010 installment (Our Atheists) but the monumental work of the Durants has so far not been properly addressed.

          Will Durant was born in November 1885 of French Canadian Catholic parents and received his early education by the Jesuits. Initially he became a newspaper writer but his inquisitive mind and social conscience led him to teach at Seton Hall University. In 1911 he became principal of the Ferrer Modern School that was intended to serve the educational needs of the working poor, where he also taught classes. He fell in love with one of his pupils, Chaya Kaufman of Russian Jewish parents, and they married in October of 1913. Since the bride was only 15 years old, Will resigned from the school and a life-long bond was established between the two. It was only broken in 1981 when Chaya, whom Will had nicknamed Ariel, died on October 25. Will followed her on November 7 of that year. Together they first explored our world and its civilizations by touring the globe and their first-hand experiences of the various cultures they encountered formed the background for their monumental work.

          The History of Civilization consists of 11 volumes with the first one, Our Oriental Heritage published in 1935 and the last one The Age of Napoleon in 1975. The other volumes where “The Age of …” appears in the title are Volume IV The Age of Faith, Volume VII The Beginning of the Age of Reason, Volume VIII The Age of Louis XIV and Volume IX The Age of Voltaire. All of them, in addition to a few others, reside in my library but I must admit to not having found the time to fully read even one of them because each one exceeds at least 800 pages and the Age of Faith required nearly 1200. Nevertheless, they are available and can serve not only as reference for certain aspects when needed but also as inspiration. They are written in a compassionate, informative style which distinguishes them from the writings of some fervent atheists, especially Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and A Letter to a Christian Nation.  These books, as discussed in Our Atheists (May 1, 2010), are a polemic not only against all religions but also against religious tolerance. Dawkins on the other hand made his impassioned plea for equal rights of atheists by adding useful scientific information with a certain degree of British humor.

          With this as background we can now explore the meaning of the key word in the title of this installment “delusion.” Although all of us commonly use the word in conversation, frequently to criticize someone else’s utterances, it deserves to be further discussed. One of the definitions is by Merriam Webster: 1) A belief that is not true: a false idea. 2) A false idea or belief that is caused by mental illness. Let us leave mental illness aside and stay only with normal, i.e. common, human ideation. The key words are belief and the true-false dichotomy. The latter is perfectly appropriate in the description of concrete objects, usually as apprehended by vision. Since all of us have essentially the same brain visual processing equipment any deviation from what others might experience will readily be obvious and labeled as false. But the delusion definition does not deal with physical objects. It has to do with mental events “a belief” and under these circumstances the true-false dichotomy can become considerably murkier.

          In regard to mentation we deal not only with rational thought but there is, in addition, a constant interaction with past memories that are already emotionally flavored, as well as with current emotions. This biologic fact tends to be ignored, but it is essential to realize that unconscious bias can be co-responsible for conscious ideation and its verbal result. This is why one should not only listen to the message that comes from a given person but also investigate the reliability of the messenger who wants us to believe what is being asserted. But belief, especially when it rises to the level of faith, cannot be objectively verified and is inaccessible to scientific endeavors. It is a purely intrapersonal rule book upon which the individual operates.

          Prior to Hitler’s arrival in Austria we were taught religion in high school as one of the subjects. The definition of faith, which I remember to this day, was: Etwas fest für wahr halten – to firmly regard something as true. Please note that although the term faith, even in the Durant example, is usually restricted to religion, this is not correct. Faith moves all of us throughout our lives. It is only the mental content faith is attached to that differs among individuals and can change during life. Thus the dichotomy between faith and science for instance is a spurious one. Dawkins as well as Harris expressed just as much faith in their atheistic belief system as they condemn in others who do not share it.

          In The God Delusion Dawkins vented his most intense disgust with what has been called the “Abrahamic religions,” i.e. Judaism and its offspring: Christianity and Mohammedanism. He characterized this belief not only as a delusion but a pernicious one. His reason for calling it a delusion is the conflict with scientific data and pernicious because of religious wars which are perpetrated with a great deal of ferocity. But it doesn’t need religious dogma for that, secular ones will perfectly adequately suffice as we saw during WWII. Although the atheistic establishment is fond of pointing to the current wars in the Middle East as an example of the evil caused by religion we shouldn’t forget that they were unleashed by secular motives on our part.

Now we come to another aspect intolerant atheists apparently do not want to recognize: the difference between religious feeling and religious dogma. All the battles against religion are not necessarily against the rules for human conduct but the stories and fables that have evolved over centuries and achieved equal validity as “the Word of God” enshrined in the Bible. Dogma, unquestioned belief in what is being proclaimed, is the real problem. Not only must one not question it but if one does one will at minimum be regarded as a crank, as long as one limits the spread of one’s views to a small circle, and as a menace that has to be eliminated if one attracts too much attention.  In former centuries punishment was meted out by the Church and now the State has taken over this role.

Secular dogma has replaced the religious one in the political-societal arena especially in our country. Yet, in spite of the fact that we practically worship science, we completely disregard its principles when it comes to adherence to officially proclaimed “truth.”  I can write the way I do in these pages not only because this is “a free country,” but because I am sufficiently old, living on my savings, and the readership is quite limited. If I were still employed my superiors would have taken me long ago to task and given the choice of either to stop writing and/or dismissal from my job. Let me say it quite openly: our free society has quite narrow limits when it comes to believing and asserting views that go contrary to officially sanctioned “truth.”

The most pernicious current false belief in our country is the government’s version of what happened on 9/11. One must subscribe to it because if one publicly raises questions there will be adverse consequences. This occurs in spite of the fact that the government’s theory, which has risen to the level of dogma, is contrary to the laws of physics as has been pointed out repeatedly on this site and a spate of books. (May 1, 2012; America’s Galileo Moment)Fire, originally from plane impacts and subsequently office furniture cannot bend steel beams and reduce buildings to dust clouds. But when a respected professor of physics stated so and gave lectures on it he had to accept premature retirement. When an engineer of the company that had certified the steel of the Twin Towers for safety standards stated that other factors than fire must have brought down the buildings, he was fired from his job. So was Professor Judy Wood who published the book Where Did the Towers Go? It contains extensive photographic documentation for her belief that other weapons of some type must have been used.

In The Vancouver 9/11 Hearings (September 1, 2012) installment I presented information on my participation at a conference that dealt with all the improbabilities of the government’s 9/11 theory. But I did not mention that there was an additional motive for attending. The NSA “Data Center” was about to open in near-by Bluffdale and I was quite concerned about this misuse of our lovely valley. Apart from the purpose, which I disagree with, the center’s computers use an inordinate amount of water for cooling, which we as a desert state should not waste on this ignominious project.  I, therefore, thought that I might organize in the winter of the following year a two-day conference here in Salt Lake City on “9/11 and its Aftermath – To what Extent are Freedom and Security Compatible?” Martha agreed in spite of the fact that a personal financial commitment would be needed. The Vancouver meeting was, therefore, intended to sift the attendees for individuals who were sufficiently level-headed to present their data at our projected meeting. It was to be held at the Marriott Hotel in the Research Park area of the university’s campus; a very pleasant facility with reasonable prices. I then contacted a considerable number of persons with academic degrees who had shown themselves knowledgeable in their area of expertise and the recurrent question was: Is it sanctioned by the university? When I told them that it was a private function for the purpose to raise awareness of an important topic the conversation frequently ended at that point.

Inasmuch as I still hold a professorship at the university, albeit without financial compensation, I thought it wise to also enlist members of other relevant departments for the meeting. The result was surprising. Some were indeed willing to discuss the national security aspect but not its mental parent the 9/11 disaster. When I mentioned the project in private to some of my senior colleagues in the neurology department the uniform response was: “Do you really want to do that?” and if so “Proceed with great caution.” Since university tolerance, if not sponsorship, was important and we have a Hinckley Institute of Politics I thought the conference could be held under its auspices. But the director insisted that 9/11 is off limits and anyway his personnel would have to choose the speakers. This speaks volumes about academic freedom in our country.

Stubborn as I am, I went ahead with plans anyway and at the end of the San Diego American Epilepsy Society meeting in December of that year I was scheduled to discuss the plans with members of the 9/11 Truth group that is very active in that city; some of whom I had met in Vancouver. But, what I regard as a higher power intervened and I severely fractured my right femur on the preceding evening. There was no apparent reason for the fall; it just happened. I was incapacitated and all the plans and commitments had to be canceled. I am mentioning this personal story here to demonstrate the difficulties one encounters when one tries to elevate the 9/11 events from the government conspiracy theory of the 19 hijackers having been responsible for the entirety of the events, to the level of science. As such the government’s theory can now be called a delusion as well as a dogma because it flies in the face of established facts yet adherence to its veracity is required.

          Why did universities succumb to State proclaimed public opinion? The original purpose of a university, in contrast to a trade school, was to encourage free dialogue in a search for truth about a given topic. But this is no longer achievable in this country because universities now depend on federal government funding and have thereby become slaves of the State that sends the checks. That this situation can only have disastrous consequences when an entire “educated” generation has to lap up what the government declares as “the truth,” does not require the gift of prophecy.

Previously I have presented the Merriam Webster definition of delusion but there are additional ones. The New Columbia Encyclopedia defines it as: “a false belief based on a misconception of reality” and the Oxford Dictionary states: “An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder: the delusion of being watched.” We, therefore, have an additional key word that requires discussion: “reality.” We use it constantly without thinking about its implications. As with the true-false dichotomy there is no problem in regard to objects that we are aware of through our senses. It comes again when we deal with abstract mental concepts. This is the area we know least about but are prone to argue the most.  

Physical reality is experienced when our eyes are open and we apprehend the happenings in the outer world. These are universal and can readily be verified by others. But this is not the case for the eyes closed state when our thoughts and feelings are purely private and unverifiable by others. Nevertheless, the mentation in the eyes closed state, in which we spend nearly half of our lives, carries over into our thoughts and actions of daily waking life. This fact is ignored by those of us, who regard science as the ultimate arbiter and insist that God does not exist because science rules out this belief. Let me now be quite concrete. Science is measurement and measurement requires vision. What we can’t see we can’t measure and quantify. In the human being vision is by far the most predominant sense, as can readily be demonstrated in neurophysiological laboratories, but this should not blind us to the importance of the other senses. In addition, all of them operate only within a given frequency range and anything above or below that is inaccessible to us. To base one’s opinion about reality, as is so commonly done, purely on vision - science is contrary to reason and when one firmly believes that reality is limited to the human eyes open experience one can regard this also as a delusion.

We, therefore, have to come to grips with what is and is not believable when the eyes open and the eyes closed mentation are given equal value. Under these circumstances we will look for possible motives that led to the actual events we experienced. There are occurrences in all of our lives which we have to regard as misfortune because they run counter to the plans we have made. We then try to find reasons for them and our subsequent conduct may not be determined by the actual cause of the event but by the reason we assign to it. Needless to say this assigned reason may be quite wrong. Our government’s response to the 9/11 is an example for the deliberate misuse of a crime to further its preconceived policies. More commonly we are confronted in our private lives with untoward events such as accidents, illness or death for which we want to find reasons. Depending on the character structure of the individual one may want to extract vengeance by legal action against some potential perpetrator of the presumed cause or it may lead, especially in religious persons, to introspection about the possible meaning of the event for one’s future life.

The Christian religion posits an all-good Father and the obvious existence of events in everyone’s life that may well be regarded as an evil seems incompatible with that notion. But my own life has taught me that what was a serious “evil,” that nearly drove me to suicide in adolescence, was actually a blessing in disguise; a lesson I had to learn for a successful future life. Since I have mentioned the details in War&Mayhem, which can be downloaded from this site, they need not be repeated here. In retrospect a meaning could be assigned to the event as the best thing that could have happened to me at the time because it brought me face to face with a “reality” which required different sustained effort.

Another example might be the fractured leg that prevented the above mentioned planned 9/11 conference. In retrospect, the timing was not appropriate for my life situation. As a member of a university department and respected by investigators of the neurophysiological/epilepsy community I would have become “radioactive” for them to the detriment of future work in the field. Furthermore, apart from gaining notoriety it would not have achieved its aim of leading to an international criminal investigation of the tragedy. As any good physician knows for the successful treatment of an ailment three factors have to be considered: the correct medication, in the proper dose, to be taken at the right time. If one neglects any one of these three components, the hoped for outcome will not be achieved. Right timing of one’s planned actions is, of course, the most difficult to ascertain. It may only retrospectively become apparent but the notion can become important for future conduct as well as an attempt to make sense out of the apparent senseless.

In America we currently live in an era of socio-political turmoil and uncertainty as pointed out in last month’s installment. That of America’s “lone superpower” has come to an end and efforts to recreate the past century’s glories are doomed to fail in spite of the promises our would-be presidents are currently making during their debates. But for students of history this is not unprecedented. All empires give way at some point and the attendant dislocations are always painful. The Western Roman Empire decayed after Constantine and was first replaced by the so-called “dark ages” and subsequently medievalism, The Eastern portion held out longer until it succumbed to the Muslim onslaught. The glory of the “Roi-Soleil,” Louis XIV, gave way to the more somber assessment by his successor, Louis XV, who commented on the coming revolution with: aprés moi le deluge.    

The way for “the Flood” was paved by the philosophes of whom Francois-Marie Arouet, pen name Voltaire (1694-1778), and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) are best known. For the current context Voltaire is more relevant. In his most popular novel Candide, ou l‘Optimisme he satirized the notion that regardless what happens in life it is always for the best. It is now called called the “silver lining” of untoward events and as noted above I look for it in my own life, although it can only be perceived in retrospect. There are numerous bon mots ascribed to Voltaire but for the current purpose 


is the most important. The phrase has been translated in the Merriam Webster dictionary as “crush the infamous thing,” which merely shows the difficulties translators have to express the meaning of a succinct French statement. The verb écrasez provides no problem because it does mean crush, L’Infâme is more difficult because it exists in French dictionaries only as an adjective where it stands for: infamous; vile; or base. What Voltaire meant by elevating an adjective to a noun was the abuse of power by the church and royal absolutism as expressed by Louis XIV “L’Ėtat c’est moi    I am the state. These revered institutions had to be crushed in addition to any kind of dogma that limits the human spirit from free interrogation and discourse. Since this is precisely what is needed today I have capitalized and set off the phrase in its original French.

In the West the Church has largely lost its power to physically punish its “black sheep.” Although in certain Christian denominations, such as the prevailing one in Utah, it is basically in control of the legislature. In private lives malcontents are not only expelled from the faith but also frequently ostracized by their family members. The power of misguided faith in the Muslim world is, of course, today’s worldwide problem. But as mentioned above, it is not only religious dogma which is L’Infâme. In the West it is the secular dogma with which the religious one of the Middle East is to be defeated. This will never work because violence, regardless of cause, tends to breed further violence in the never ending spiral of ever more devastating wars. 

What would be needed to bring this disastrous state to a halt is for us to finally heed the message of compassion as taught by the Buddha, and of agápē by Jesus. I am deliberately using the Greek word of the New Testament that is translated as love because the translation includes erotic love while agápē deals exclusively with love’s spiritual component. There will be no peace for Americans unless or until we as individuals and subsequently our elected leaders make the mental quantum jump from Christi-anity to Christi-amity as discussed here in the December 2010 issue.

We now have to ask ourselves if this is obvious why people, and especially our leaders, are not doing so. The reason is quite simple. It requires the effort of independent thinking which is regarded as a luxury one doesn’t have time for. In addition it can, of course, be dangerous as the statements in regard to 9/11 showed. While loss of job tends to be the punishment in our current society it was worse under the Nazi regime. This is why we were told in the Wehrmacht: leave the thinking to the horses, they have the bigger heads. Karl Pribram who recently summarized his neurophysio/psychological lifetime work in The Form Within, used a quote by the educator John Dewey:


The man in the street, when asked what he thinks about a certain matter, often replies, that he doesn’t think at all, he knows. The suggestion is that thinking is a case of active uncertainty set over against conviction or unquestioning assurance.     


When one now considers that these are America’s voters, who decide on who will become president of the country one can only shudder at the consequences of this state of affairs. But it does explain the dire straits our country is in as has been documented in previous installments.

The physician has not only to make a correct diagnosis he also needs to suggest the right treatment. In the case of our society we urgently need to rethink our relationship to “the other.” Specifically each one of us should answer the question: Who am I? Am I apart from others, or a part of others? The answer will be fundamental for the future conduct of the person. If we were to truly believe and actually were convinced that each one of us is only one part of an immense whole to which one has to constructively contribute we would become caretakers instead of exploiters.

Will Durant firmly believed in the “one part” aspect. According to Wikipedia, he was approached in1944 by a prominent Christian and a Jewish leader to start “a movement, to raise moral standards.” Durant suggested instead that they start a movement against racial intolerance, which at that time included foremost the persecution of Jews. He then began to formulate in his mind a “Declaration of Interdependence” which was formally read in March of 1945 at a gala dinner in Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel. For good measure it also was read into the Congressional Record the following October. A copy can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_Interdependence. It is obviously modeled after the Declaration of Independence with the “Whereas” preamble followed by the “Therefore.” Although the title emphasizes Interdependence that can be broadly interpreted to include the entire organic world, the actual content was limited to mutual tolerance of all human beings regardless of race, color or creed. 

This was necessitated at the time by the war effort but now we have to stress Interdependence in its broadest sense. Pope Francis and likeminded others are trying to hammer it into our conscience, but judging by the response he receives, as seen by the actions of our political leadership, success does not seem to be in the immediate offing. Nevertheless we need to persevere because in contrast to what our politicians want from us, namely to live in fear of what “the other” will do to us, this is an effort upon which our survival as a species may well depend. I am not the only one who feels this way. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has restarted its Doomsday Clock which was stopped at the end of the Cold War. It is now 3 minutes before midnight when human life is supposed to terminate on our planet if the current political course is maintained. http://thebulletin.org/three-minutes-and-counting7938. Obviously this is another inconvenient reminder by scientists that will be ignored by the media and our leadership. But listening to the debates of our Republican presidential contenders and their plans for our country, if one of them were to be elected in November, the clock may then well have to be reset to one or two minutes before midnight. Time is running out and “business as usual” simply will not do anymore; metanoia - rethinking is urgently required.    

Faith and its counterpart, doubt, are part of the human condition. But we must guard against falling into either extreme to the exclusion of the other. The danger lies in intolerance that breeds mental aberrations, including delusions, which are presented as “reason,” “science” or both. Voltaire’s crush infamy was an attempt to abolish the misuse of authority but when we look at the result it must be regarded as a failure. The subsequent French revolution led not only to the erection of the statue of the “Goddess of Reason” in Notre Dame Cathedral, but in in the same year, 1793, La Terreur was initiated when thousands were sent to the guillotine. This was followed by the Napoleonic wars, nationalism, as well as numerous other “isms” in defense of which wars were fought. Their attendant evils far outshine those that were committed by the Church and absolute monarchs.

“Crushing” convictions that run counter to one’s own is still the preferred method of dealing with them. Yet it is counterproductive because, as history has abundantly shown, the end of each war contains the seed for the next one. The time may have come to replace Voltaire’s “crush infamy,” with “expose infamy.” This was theoretically the function of the press, but since it has been bought by the ruling circles it has become a propaganda tool for their pet delusions. Nevertheless, we have the Internet where freedom of thought and speech still exist. While it also provides patently false information, it does offer the opportunity to look at a large variety of opinions from which an informed judgment can arise. Once a conclusion on a given topic is reached and before action in word or deed is advocated one should consider the physician’s prime directive: nil nocere. Whatever course of action is advocated one must first consider the potential harm to others rather than one’s own benefit. Slogans such as: “the end justifies the means,” and “right or wrong my country,” need to be exposed as false thinking and then abandoned in whatever guise they night make their re-appearance. I am specifically referring to the obsession of our current crop of Republican presidential aspirants with “national security” regardless of the means to achieve it. If we had an “educated public” it would reject these notions and eventually a nucleus of responsible people would emerge that would then reset the course of our country in the direction our founders had in mind. This fervent wish may also be a delusion, but at least it is a noble one and ought to be worked towards.

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