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Comments by Greenforest

Go to: Four Bad Reasons to Believe Anything

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by Greenforest

I would add social pressure explicitly. This partly overlaps with tradition (including of the family) and authority, but social pressure refers to all kinds of social relations. The pressure of people's social networks in the broader sense, especially their immediate social networks (e.g., friends, coworkers, etc.), is an important factor in acquiring and sustaining beliefs that might not otherwise be acquired and sustained. A shift often occurs in people's religious beliefs in their late teens/ early twenties, along with changes in their social networks due to the transition to college/university or the workforce. New unfamiliar social networks can challenge one's beliefs; and one may find a comfort zone in familiar ones.

Social pressure is not a good reason for believing or disbelieving something.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 07:52:25 UTC | #928859

Go to: Moroccan girl commits suicide after being forced to marry her rapist

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 137 by Greenforest

Some activist groups in Morocco are campaigning to repeal the law (Article 475) that allowed this terrible practice of requiring a rape victim to marry the rapist.

Here's an online petition:

Some articles which provide additional background on this case: Campaign for Moroccan legal reform after teen rape victim’s suicide Morocco outraged over suicide of girl who was forced to marry her rapist

"Filali said Amina complained to her mother that her husband was beating her repeatedly during the five months of marriage but that her mother counseled patience."

"Morocco on Thursday said it would amend a law allowing rapists to marry their underage female victims after the suicide of a teenage girl raised doubts about the effectiveness of reforms to women's rights in the country. Sixteen-year-old Amina El-Filali killed herself last week near the northern city of Larache by swallowing rat poison after a six-month forced marriage to the man who raped her."

"Local media reports say that the girl complained to her family about her mistreatment at the hands of the man who raped her - but they disowned her, prompting her to take her own life. Witnesses say her husband became so outraged when she drank the poison he dragged her down the street by her hair - and she died shortly afterwards."

Fri, 16 Mar 2012 23:45:07 UTC | #927961

Go to: Malaysia deports Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 67 by Greenforest

Correction to my previous comment: His name is Hamza Kashgari Mohamad Najeeb.

Wed, 15 Feb 2012 11:16:23 UTC | #917982

Go to: RDFRS UK/Ipsos MORI Poll #2: UK Christians oppose special influence for religion in public policy

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 19 by Greenforest

This is excellent work.

A couple of questions I would have like to have seen asked:

"Do you believe the U.K. should legally prosecute and punish those who "blaspheme" or "insult" your religion or God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?"

"Would you vote for a generally well qualified person for prime minister if the candidate were an atheist?"

Tue, 14 Feb 2012 03:20:24 UTC | #917491

Go to: RDFRS UK/Ipsos MORI Poll #1: How religious are UK Christians?

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by Greenforest

Nice work!

Tue, 14 Feb 2012 01:54:52 UTC | #917466

Go to: Malaysia deports Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 57 by Greenforest

Mon, 13 Feb 2012 14:42:09 UTC | #917186

Go to: Malaysia deports Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 56 by Greenforest

Krasny (55),

They are instructed to pray to Allah, and for Muhammad (Qur'an 33:56), i.e., so that Allah will bless him and grant him peace.

I'm not sure what precisely set the "blasphemy" alarm bells off for the sheikhs. But here is some of what he's reported to have said:

• "On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you've always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you."

• "On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more."

• "On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more."

He is also reported to have stated: "No Saudi women will go to hell, because it's impossible to go there twice."

Mon, 13 Feb 2012 14:34:16 UTC | #917183

Go to: Malaysia deports Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 53 by Greenforest

Another petition to sign in support of Hamza Kashgari's freedom of expression: Save Hamza Kashgari! Support Freedom of Speech!

Mon, 13 Feb 2012 07:05:53 UTC | #917105

Go to: Malaysia deports Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 52 by Greenforest


Please contact your governments and the UN Human eights Council. Telephone: +41 22 917 9656 Mail: We must pressure them to intervene!

Thanks. Will do.

I signed the previous petition when we were trying to appeal to the Malaysian authorities, who, as it turned out ignored their own legal process, ignored a court injunction, and let the Saudis take Kashgari anyways.

(Kashgari is not his real name).

Our governments and media could easily pressure Saudi Arabia to end this madness, but they don't. Oil dependency is no excuse. It is ignorance, cowardice, indifference, moral relativism, and willful indulgence and compliance that allows this evil to continue.

Enough. Let's each do what we can to help save this completely innocent man who merely expressed his opinion.

Mon, 13 Feb 2012 04:42:39 UTC | #917087

Go to: Atheism in America

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 20 by Greenforest

A suggestion on composition for Baggini: Lead with the statistics to give a broad view, don't bury them half-way through the article. The article is a bit heavy on anecdotes in my opinion. Otherwise, a good article.

Mon, 06 Feb 2012 19:07:57 UTC | #915093

Go to: If by "Christian love" you mean hatred & contempt...

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 69 by Greenforest

Comment 67 by Byrneo However I'm interested to hear the views of a professional on this now.

Indeed; social psychologists would have a field day with this case, as would those who study the psychology of religion specifically.

Sun, 15 Jan 2012 11:10:22 UTC | #908508

Go to: If by "Christian love" you mean hatred & contempt...

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 66 by Greenforest

The internet is a kind of wild west, anything-goes place right now. There are some rules of course, but not much enforcement. The sorts of vulgar and violent comments made by these (mostly) teenagers associated with the Jessica Ahlquist case are by no means unique to Christians upset at some blasphemous actions, but...

Comment 19 by Richard Dawkins I would be curious to hear from psychologists what they think is really going on in the minds of these Christians when they write such hateful things. Not just hateful but threatening, and filled with vengeful but impotent fantasies of the girl being raped in this life or going to hell in the next.

...there is indeed something specific to Christianity* here in the heavy emphasis on an imagined torture and punishment in the afterlife, and there is a lot of evidence of that kind of thinking expressed in the threats that were posted. In addition, some of the angry comments only involved threat of hell-fire, as if it were somehow an acceptable method of venting while also engaging in social aggression. Also, some of these absurd yet rather scary fire-and-brimstone comments were directed at atheists in general, besides attacking Jessica Ahlquist on the mere grounds that she was an atheist. The (also absurd yet scary) accusatory term "witch" was also being used. I doubt that most of those teenagers know their religious doctrines in any significant depth, but many of them do seem to understand and accept the basic idea that the atheists are guilty, sinful, they're going to be punished in hell-fire, which is the maximum penalty. The maximum penalty implies the maximum crime, according to that value system. Disbelief, in that view, is worse than murder, rape, and assault--all of which, by the way, were threatened against Jessica Ahlquist. The spread of atheism/disbelief supposedly involves the spread of a threat to Christians' souls, and this must be opposed, in order to protect and save those souls. These types of belief in the afterlife have a nasty way of influencing the behavior of Christians in this life.

My untutored guess would be that they are frightened and insecure about their own beliefs and therefore feel deeply threatened by a challenge such as this.

That, plus a kind of tribal identity, mob mentality. The Christian sees his or her own identity under attack. (This of course would also be possible in groups not defined by religion).

Then there is the problem of toleration: One is sinning by allowing others to "get away with" (violate religious rules) a blasphemous action, and so to prove one's faith and one's loyalty one must do at least something against the blasphemer, at minimum hate, at maximum murder, and all the rest in between (threats, harassment, etc.). "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"; thou shalt not suffer an atheist to get their way legally.

And could it be that the threat is all the greater because it comes from a nice young woman – of the type whom they would normally admire – who doesn't fit with their stereotype of the evil atheist?

One thing that struck me, from what I've read thus far, is that these particular Christian teens weren't threatening the judge who made the ruling, or the ACLU. They seem to have restricted their attacks to Ahlquist, perhaps thinking they can get away with this by going after a 16-year-old student. It would seem that they are making some prudent calculation in who they are targeting, and this highlights the cowardly nature of this kind of sniping. (Plus, some of the would-be criminals have noted or implied that they are under-aged and can therefore get away with more legally).

There are a number of factors which seem to give the impression of "permission" for these teenagers to engage in these attacks, but the main one here is that Ahlquist is an atheist or nonbeliever. (Do they really care all that much about a banner being taken down?) Some of the comments use "atheist" itself as an insult.

Another factor may be that because the school authorities opposed Ahlquist to the point of investing heavily in fighting her and the ACLU in court, the Christian teens in question see this as some kind of validation of their "righteous" hostility toward Ahlquist.

*Specific, though not unique, since Islam also has the hell-fire/torture/doomsday scenario, an element it probably inherited from Christianity.

Sun, 15 Jan 2012 10:50:57 UTC | #908503

Go to: Christopher Hitchens (Vanity Fair, Feb 2012)

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 39 by Greenforest

Rushdie has written wonderful tribute to Hitchens.

Sat, 07 Jan 2012 02:04:00 UTC | #906121

Go to: In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 403 by Greenforest

Christopher Hitchens has left for us his great example of courage.

Sat, 17 Dec 2011 04:50:29 UTC | #900173

Go to: UBC study finds believers distrust atheists as much as rapists

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 54 by Greenforest

For those who want to read the full journal article for this study online for free, see the lead author's (Will Gervais') webpage here:

The claim that believers distrust atheists as much as rapists is based on a use of a variation on the "Linda problem" conjunction fallacy method of Kahneman and Tversky.

Fri, 02 Dec 2011 19:46:30 UTC | #895111

Go to: Royal Society journal archive made permanently free to access

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 12 by Greenforest

Great. I've just gone onto the site and perused a few articles in section B. Strangely, from the search results that come up I can access the full text of some articles, but not of others, though in these cases they aren't marked differently.

Article says "Around 60,000 historical scientific papers are accessible via a fully searchable online archive, with papers published more than 70 years ago now becoming freely available."

When I read that initially I thought only articles published 70 years ago or earlier would be made freely available. However I was able to access fairly recent articles (e.g., 2009).

Thu, 27 Oct 2011 15:58:13 UTC | #884580

Go to: Serious claims belong in a serious scientific paper

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by Greenforest

I think this article by Ben Goldacre is effective because it picks one very strong point--that Dr. Greenfield ought to write up her claims carefully in a scientific paper (i.e., not in informal dramatic comments to the media)--and sticks to it throughout the article without adding any unnecessary requests, accusations, etc. The ball is now squarely in Dr. Greenfield's court to address this one issue, and there is nothing she can legitimately grab onto by way of objection in the article. The request is justified and unassailable. We henceforth should not see Greenfield making over-dramatized comments to the popular media, or any comments, on this topic, until she has made her review, to which she can refer the reporters.

Some of the press of course will then respond by dramatizing her comments in hyperventilating headlines, but at least then, in that case, that won't be Greenfield's fault. However, Greenfield will have to get her rhetoric under control and avoid dramatic casual phrases like "blow the mind."

I'm going to partially disagree with a couple of claims others have raised in this thread and other threads about Greenfield's claims on this topic. I've generalized the claims here.

Claim 1. Greenfield is not a specialist in the neural and cognitive developmental effects of human interaction with screen technologies (or specific aspects of those technologies), therefore she shouldn't be expounding on these topics to the press and general public.

Response: While it certainly would be preferable to have such a specialist commenting on this topic, Greenfield's knowledge/expertise in neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience, which is shown in her scientific publications and in her ongoing scientific research, is sufficiently relevant to this area that she should easily be able to write a solid publication-worthy scientific review of the relevant empirical evidence, develop her own theories about it, and so on--provided that her claims and concerns are supported by the evidence discussed in the review. (One of the misunderstandings here is that because Greenfield is listed as, and indeed is, a pharmacologist, some seem to think pharmacology is an entirely separate area from neuroscience or that the two are mutually exclusive categories of knowledge and expertise. That's not correct.) That said, I agree she should not be expounding to the press until she has produced and published such a careful scientific review.

Claim 2. Greenfield herself ought to conduct or run empirical studies on this topic (see Claim 1) in order to test her claims, otherwise she should stop talking about it or we should ignore her.

Response: Again, it would be preferable that she did this, but it is not necessary for her to have actually carried out a study on the topic. A careful review of the relevant research findings, with sound suggestions and recommendations, would suffice.

That's all I wanted to note. Now with Ben Goldacre's widely-read article, the onus is now clearly on Dr. Greenfield to produce a peer-reviewed scientific paper supporting her claims and concerns.

Mon, 24 Oct 2011 07:47:05 UTC | #883627

Go to: Giving placebos such as reiki to cancer patients does more harm than good

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 19 by Greenforest

Ernst, the author of this article, wrote:

"What does this mean? The researchers were quite clear about their interpretation of the results. They believe reiki has been shown to work. Yet, I think the findings demonstrate exactly the opposite: genuine reiki is no better than sham reiki, thus it does not work."

Here's what the researchers actually wrote in the findings and conclusion in their abstract, to which Ernst linked:

"FINDINGS: Although Reiki therapy was statistically significant in raising the comfort and well-being of patients post-therapy, the sham Reiki placebo also was statistically significant. Patients in the standard care group did not experience changes in comfort and well-being during their infusion session. CONCLUSIONS: The findings indicate that the presence of an RN providing one-on-one support during chemotherapy was influential in raising comfort and well-being levels, with or without an attempted healing energy field."

They attribute the increases in (self-reported) comfort and well-being to the presence of a registered nurse providing one-on-one support, not to "reiki." I'm not sure where Ernst is getting the idea that they attributed the results to reiki.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 03:20:56 UTC | #881371

Go to: Guest post: Baroness Greenfield, junk neuroscience, and the dangers of video games

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 31 by Greenforest

Alright, my attempt to defend Dr. Greenfield has weakened. A bit of additional searching indicates that in other contexts she has used, not just cited, the phrase "blow your mind" or "blow our minds". My objection to this is not that she literally believes the mind is "blown"--whatever that may mean in real terms--but that it is an unhelpful, misleading use of rhetoric. The problem is then compounded when the media pounce on these terms and present them, leading to further confusion.

Sun, 16 Oct 2011 22:28:50 UTC | #881340

Go to: Guest post: Baroness Greenfield, junk neuroscience, and the dangers of video games

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 28 by Greenforest


I agree with you in objecting strongly to her statement about increase in autism spectrum disorders as evidence of the effects of increased use of digital technologies, quoted in the New Scientist, as well as her inadequate backtracking from those comments.

As for the present topic, re the specific claims attributed to her, it just doesn't seem likely to me that Dr. Greenfield would literally refer to video games "blow[ing] the mind", etc., without having some more meaningful and scientific explanation of what she was talking about, or that she would not know something as basic as the fact that the deactivation of "certain nerve connections" is a normal process. While Dr. Greenfield may be responsible to some extent for some of the misunderstandings, in the present case, by use or mention of provocative phrases that are easily pulled out of context by journalists, I suspect that in this case as well as in other cases (for example, reported in sensationalist articles in the Daily Mail) that her views are being misrepresented.

Otherwise, I don't have a problem with her speculations as such. Publishing one's speculations is part of science.

Sun, 16 Oct 2011 13:35:02 UTC | #881268

Go to: Guest post: Baroness Greenfield, junk neuroscience, and the dangers of video games

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 23 by Greenforest

p.s. Correction to my previous comment:

The link I provided is to a video of a previous talk by Dr. Greenfield on this topic, but not of the most recent one given at the Sherborne Girls school mentioned in the Telegraph article by Nick Collins, which is referenced in the Chivers/Burnett article above. Nevertheless, from the quotes and descriptions by Nick Collins, it seems that the more recent talk was quite similar in substance to the former. It seems likely to me, after having listened to Dr. Greenfield's previous talk, and hearing her mention of the phrase "blown our minds" in proper context, that Nick Collins or whoever reported this has erred and has misrepresented Dr. Greenfield's views.

Sun, 16 Oct 2011 03:36:22 UTC | #881210

Go to: Guest post: Baroness Greenfield, junk neuroscience, and the dangers of video games

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by Greenforest

I took the time to view a video of the talk Dr. Greenfield gave in which she discussed these issues and in which these alleged statements were made. I found Dr. Greenfield's discussion to be thought-provoking, reasonable, and balanced. My main criticism is that things seemed a bit rushed near the end of the talk [though her presentation was still smooth and professional], but that's a common occurrence. It certainly was not a "rant," as Tim Chivers alleges. Dr. Greenfield is thoroughly well-qualified to be raising concerns, discussing, and speculating about these issues, and she does cite relevant evidence in her talk. This article by Tim Chivers and Dr. Burnett seriously misrepresents what Dr. Greenfield actually said.

For example, she did not say that video games "blow the mind." In the talk (see link below), around 48:00 to 50:00 into it, she was discussing the different types of mental processes engaged by different types of activities, with some, according to her, being more external and sensory, and others being more self-conscious, abstract, and cognitive. In speaking to a general nonspecialist audience, she cited some familiar phrases people used to describe their experiences of some recreational activities such as "sex, drugs, and rock and roll," dancing, downhill skiing, etc. Around 49:20, she noted that in describing such experiences in casual or metaphorical terms, people say "we let ourselves go," or "we say we've blown our mind." Note well that Dr. Greenfield herself was not employing these casual terms, but was merely citing these familiar terms in the context of discussing her distinction between "sensory" and "cognitive" processes.

It seems to me that many of the criticisms of Dr. Greenfield here are simply missing the mark because they are based on erroneous assumptions about what she said. Suggestion: Listen to her talk, then make criticisms.

Here's the link for the talk: Susan Greenfield: The Future of the Brain

or try this:

Sun, 16 Oct 2011 01:56:44 UTC | #881203

Go to: "Telling children hell exists is child abuse"

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 38 by Greenforest

From the article: "Telling children hell exists is child abuse"

I agree. It is a form of psychological abuse for a parent to tell a naive child, essentially, "Agree with me about my literal belief in my particular deity, or you will be burnt and tortured and destroyed in hell."

[Off-topic ending removed by moderator. Published news items for possible posting on this site may be sent to]

Thu, 13 Oct 2011 20:38:29 UTC | #880638

Go to: O'Reilly vs. Richard Dawkins

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 99 by Greenforest

B.s. like this from the likes of ignoramus short-fuse blow-hard Bill O'Reilly reminds me once again why we (atheists, agnostics, skeptics, etc.) need our own television channels and shows. Put atheists in the position of interviewer, interviewing famous and influential religious believers, such as politicians, religious leaders, etc., and I believe we would see some very important instances of exposure of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy that is due to religious belief. Even if we could not get a tv channel, we might try to get an atheist tv show* on one of the major networks, and that would give us a platform.

*I know Bill Maher has show, but that's mostly just superficial joking around; he's not really putting famous and influential people on the hot seat in the way that a tough, serious atheist journalist could.

Wed, 12 Oct 2011 17:49:51 UTC | #880221

Go to: Twilight of Violence

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by Greenforest

bigtimedwarfer (11),

Yes, I definitely do agree with Pinker that proportion is the more appropriate means of comparison. That's standard whenever you are comparing populations of different sizes

However, that has nothing to do with my point. I think the estimates of the absolute numbers are off, based on other estimates I've read, and other considerations, some of which I touched on in my comment. I think the claim that communism alone is responsible for more killings/deaths than are all religions combined over a span of 1500 years is not correct.

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 15:46:46 UTC | #878173

Go to: Twilight of Violence

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by Greenforest


I would estimate that the time it took me to type out that post is substantially less than the time it would take me to read an 832 page book.

I'm not judging the quality of the contents of Pinker's book by its length--as I said, it may be a useful reference book. I would add, with Pinker being the author, it's probably a very good book. Rather, I'm responding to what he wrote in the interview posted by Harris, which I read in full. While I hope to get a chance to have a look, and maybe even buy Pinker's book in the next couple of weeks, I doubt that the relevant questions and issues I raised above will be answered within its 832 pages. (If they are though, I find it is still useful to raise questions before reading a book, to keep an active and inquisitive focus). They would, however, be answered by reading (or rather skimming through to the relevant parts) of Matthew White's book, which is listed as a mere 688 pages. I've already read some portions of his extensive website, which discusses these kinds of issues, but didn't see satisfactory answers there.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 21:54:08 UTC | #877933

Go to: Twilight of Violence

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 4 by Greenforest

I'm a fan of Pinker as much as I am of Harris, Dawkins, et al., and I'd love to read this book, but it's 832 pages long (according to Amazon), so I doubt that I would ever have time to read the whole thing. It may be a useful reference work to have handy.

In response to the "atheist regimes" question, Pinker answers

"Third, according to the most recent compendium of history’s worst atrocities, Matthew White’s Great Big Book of Horrible Things (Norton, 2011), religions have been responsible for 13 of the 100 worst mass killings in history, resulting in 47 million deaths. Communism has been responsible for 6 mass killings and 67 million deaths. If defenders of religion want to crow, “We were only responsible for 47 million murders—Communism was worse!”, they are welcome to do so, but it is not an impressive argument."

There are problems with this answer.

First, given how common and influential religion has been throughout history, if religions have been responsible for only 13 of the 100 worst atrocities, then what has been responsible for the other 87? Is 13 a high number, or a low number, relative to non-religious sources of culpability?

Second, while the "communism is worse!" argument (not to be conflated, as it often is, with the "atheism is worse!" argument), based on a difference of 20 million "deaths" (murders?), is not an impressive argument, it is nevertheless a winning argument if our measure is deaths and communism alone in the 20th century is responsible for more deaths than are all religions combined throughout approximately 1500 years of history (including the 20th century, using White's assessment, see below). However, I question these numbers, the methodology, definitions, etc. 47 million seems way too low an estimate for the number of people killed throughout the past 1500 years due to all religions combined, and 67 million specifically attributable to the application of "communist" ideology alone seems way too high. What are the significant biases, if any, of the people who made these estimates?

Third, Pinker cites Matthew White. I have found at least some of White's estimates to be suspect and arbitrary. Moreover, while Amazon's main review/description of White's book suggests that he is a "seasoned statistician," in fact White himself on his own website writes "My academic credentials are pretty slim -- a couple of years of college and that's about it. I'm not a university professor or anything like that, and I currently earn my living as a librarian." From what I've seen on his website, his use of statistics is crude and questionable, resulting in some dubious estimates. I hope Pinker didn't rely too heavily on White's estimates.

I do agree fully with Pinker on this:

"When it comes to the history of violence, the significant distinction is not one between theistic and atheistic regimes. It’s the one between regimes that were based on demonizing, utopian ideologies (including Marxism, Nazism, and militant religions) and secular liberal democracies that are based on the ideal of human rights."

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 17:31:54 UTC | #877833

Go to: The New York Times wees itself in public

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by Greenforest

Lindstrom wrote:

"In each instance, the results showed activation in both the audio and visual cortices of the subjects’ brains. In other words, when they were exposed to the video, our subjects’ brains didn’t just see the vibrating iPhone, they “heard” it, too; and when they were exposed to the audio, they also “saw” it. This powerful cross-sensory phenomenon is known as synesthesia."

It's important to understand the respects in which these statements are ludicrous. In rebutting Lindstrom's claim, the MindHacks author wrote that "...synesthesia is where a conscious sensory experience in one sensory domain produces a conscious experience in another." That's not a very helpful definition, because it doesn't distinguish synesthetic "cross-sensory" associations from normal appropriate cross-sensory associations. For example, if you hear your phone ring, you may experience relevant mental phenomena in other modalities, e.g., the visual appearance of the phone may come to mind, and other phenomena associated with handling the phone and using it may occur. Synesthesia, on the other hand, would involve arbitrary, irrelevant, perceptually inappropriate associations, e.g., to use a hypothetical example, when you hear your phone ring you have the experience of seeing purple--despite the fact that your phone is not purple and there is no significant basis in external reality for the experience of seeing purple or for having established such an association between purple and your phone ring sound.

For those who don't already know what synesthesia is, I recommend the following website, which has a brief pretest that you can take to determine if it is likely that you have some synesthesia:

When you read the questions, you will get a clearer idea of what is meant by synesthesia.

To return to Lindstrom's statements, for example, the fact that people had the experience of "seeing" their phones when exposed only to the audio of the phone ringing is definitely not synesthesia. Rather, it is a normal and appropriate association; this would hardly be news to psychologists. Either Lindstrom doesn't know what synesthesia is, or else he knows what it is but is, for whatever reasons, misleading readers by claiming it is synesthesia. I suspect that on his part there may be some combination of ignorance plus an attempt to make these quite ordinary results seem extraordinary.

On the issue of people "loving" their iPhones, etc., Lindstrom wrote:

"But most striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member."

See above explanation. It would hardly be unusual for people to associate the sound of their phone ringing to the experiences associated with talking to friends and family members on the phone.

Also damaging to Lindstrom's claim re people "loving" their phones, etc., is the observation pointed out in the letter of objection, signed by a long list of neuroimaging researchers (see link in the MindHacks article), indicating that insula activation is somewhat more associated with negative emotion than it is with positive emotions like love. As the MindHacks author notes, activation of the insula is also associated with feelings of disgust. These discrepancies could be due in part to the fact that the insula is a large enough region that there are likely subregions that deal with different functions. And as Tal Yarkoni notes (in an article liked to in the MindHacks article), the insula seems to have a general function in attention and task performance, such that the insula is likely active in many kinds of tasks. In short, the insula is not simply a "love" area as Lindstrom's argument would seem to require.

There was a misleading statement by the Mindhacks author:

"In other words, synesthesia is defined by the experiences that someone has, not where brain activity shows up."

While synesthesia is indeed defined as an experience, the locations of the brain activity and the interconnections between different regions of the cortex are likely relevant to the experiences the person has. Further study on the brain basis of synesthesia may help us develop a biologically based characterization of the condition. (Of course, Lindstrom's claims are simply not supported by the results he reports).

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 16:40:07 UTC | #877483

Go to: Being Pakistani and atheist a dangerous combo, but some ready to brave it

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 46 by Greenforest

HazratNaKhuda, (44)

You write:

"I am going to write a detailed article on this soon. One question that I intend to tackle is, Does Apostasy in itself qualify as blasphemy under Pakistani/Sharia Law."

I look forward to reading your article.

The wording of 295-C, with emphasis on implication and indirect references ("imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly"), seems to leave a lot of room for subjective interpretation on the part of those who bring complaints against alleged blasphemers and the judges who would hear the cases.

Tue, 27 Sep 2011 13:31:45 UTC | #875660

Go to: Being Pakistani and atheist a dangerous combo, but some ready to brave it

Greenforest's Avatar Jump to comment 38 by Greenforest

I'm thrilled to see this atheist/agnostic group arising and working in Pakistan. They are highly courageous for what they are doing. Also, kudos to Pakistan Today for running this article. This story has highlighted for me the importance of the development of international atheist/agnostic/irreligious networks, in conjunction with the development of such freethinking groups locally in countries that are under oppressive, repressive regimes. The larger we become collectively and internationally, and the more we work together, the less these regimes will be able to isolate us and persecute us locally and individually.

This quote from the article raises a good point:

“The apostasy bill was not passed. Otherwise, it would have been a crime in Pakistan to change your faith. Having said that, if the prosecution can prove that one had committed blasphemy in the act of committing apostasy, then the accused could be charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code."

As in Christian theology historically, in Islam the concepts of blasphemy, apostasy, and heresy, though having their distinct elements, are interrelated and overlapping. In Islamic jurisprudence there is a commonly-held view that mere apostasy itself is not subject to severe legal punishment, but rather the public expression of the apostasy* is subject to punishment, and more likely so when the expression is deemed insulting to Islam or Muhammad and offensive to Muslims, or is deemed likely to encourage or persuade others to also abandon the religion. The public expression of the apostasy can be deemed blasphemy; and a believer who expresses blasphemy may, by the fact of the expression, be deemed an apostate. Comments deemed heretical may be judged to rise to the level of blasphemy, that is, in opposition to, not just at variance with, "true" orthodox views; and may logically be deemed to put one outside the pale of the established faith, constituting a logically implied apostasy.

*(In other views, in contrast, any one or more of a long list of behaviours or expressions deemed contrary to the religion by implication, without an explicit disavowal of the religion per se, can be deemed to logically imply that an apostasy has occurred, and this is taken as evidence to support a charge and legal prosecution of apostasy).

Tue, 27 Sep 2011 07:30:03 UTC | #875573