Sunday, September 02, 2007

God, Music and Diana

In The Sunday Times:
The tenth anniversary of Diana's death. I, of course, did the funeral.
And John Humphrys' God.
Negley says, 'That Appleyard writes too much. In my day we reckoned on a good three lunches per hundred words. You can't work up any decent expenses if you're running at the rate of five features every two weeks. In my day we wore camel-coloured waistcoats and dropped fag ash in the typewriter while typing the names of world cities.' 


  1. Prolific, brilliant, it all appears so effortless. Excuse me while I go and spend 10 minutes searching for the words for a birthday card.

  2. For the most part, Humphrys doesn't contest the primary atheist assertion that religious belief is delusional; rather, he disputes the secondary assertion made by some atheists, that the world would be a better place without religion.

    However, statements like "it is difficult to understand the existence of conscience without accepting the existence of something beyond ourselves," do seem to suggest some argument from the existence of good/love to the existence of God.

    Two points arise here:

    1) If the existence of evil/hate doesn't refute the existence the God, then how can the existence of good/love prove the existence of God?

    2) This seems to be an argument from an ought to an is; a inverse naturalistic fallacy, if you will.

    In the extract from his book, Humphrys asks "Would a person who needed everything fully evidenced and rationally demonstrated ever be in a position to say, 'I love you'? Couldn’t a Dawkins-type figure make a case for love being a fiction, a function of human need, a function of biology and selfish genes? He may have many useful and persuasive things to say but there is something deeply mistaken about thinking love is simply reducible to the chemistry of the brain."

    It is indeed correct to claim that love is a delusional belief. But the proposition that love is a delusional belief is a distinct proposition from that which claims love, or any other emotional attitude for that matter, is reducible to chemical brain states. One can consistently hold that love is a delusional belief, and all beliefs, delusional or not, are irreducible to brain states.

    Could a 'fully' rational person fall in love? The modular nature of the human mind enables people to fall in love, even if they realise that love is delusional. You don't have to be rational all the time, but when the circumstances call for rational thought, it would be best if that thought is free from delusion.

  3. Gordon, what on earth do you mean by the statement 'love is a delusional belief'? Who is being deluded by what and who is in a position to judge that it is a delusion?

  4. How are you defining 'love', Gordon? I would accept that the nature of romantic love - that is, the state of being 'in love' - is necessarily delusional in your terms, but I'm struggling with it as a general argument.

    I might just be struggling because it's Sunday morning, of course.

  5. Are you married, Gordon? I'd love to see the birthday and anniversary cards you give to your wife.

    If you want to believe love is delusional, fine, but by what stretch can that possibly be termed a scientific proposition and asserted as a fact? Since when did science start asserting that things it can not explain rationally (or can explain only through one of those hilarious, wildly conjectural "just-so" stories) are delusional?

  6. I hope you were able to claim some darn good expenses for your articles. Nice touch, taking that walk to the Memorial Service for Diana. And I've always liked John Humphrys, someone who knows the right questions to ask and who's human enough to know he doesn't have the answers.

    As for love, gosh, rule that one out and you might as well be a psychopath, incapable of empathy with another. If we want to be fully human, which is what we are anyway, we really don't have a choice. Delusional or not, even madness or not, leap in and enjoy. Go for it today: who knows what may happen tomorrow.

  7. Interesting piece on music. I don't think there's anything particularly 'astonishing' or revelatory about people approaching a perfect pitch through training, or that hard graft is essential to the full realisation of true genius.

    A classically trained musician without perfect pitch is clearly much more likely to have a more acute awareness of pitch than a non-musician, for instance.

    The myth of effortless genius applies to a number of fields. Creative footballers are perceived by the public in a similar fashion to creative pop music performers.

    Yes, Ronaldo is a gifted controller of the ball, but behind the showboating seen on Match of the Day is an intensive, finely-tuned training programme to fashion this raw talent into maturity. Witness the improvement in Ronaldo's game (when he's not headbutting the opposition or romping with hookers) over the past 12 months. And compare this potential with the career trajectory of Gazza. Mental strength is as important as natural talent.

    Music's essentially the same. No one would accuse even the greatest classical musician today of a truly effortless performance, as there's a presumption of a life's dedication and sacrifice behind their artistry.

    The difference with rock and pop musicians who could be considered as exceptionally talented is that they affect an image of effortlessness, which the public laps up, as that's 'cool'. There's nothing 'cool' about the long and lonely hours spent practising scales.

    Interestingly, as far as singing is concerned, while shows like Pop Idol and Fame Academy have exposed the training regimes of the recording industry, many viewers would still instintively balk at the idea that a distintive rock singer would ever have, or indeed need, singing lessons. Yet the vast majority of them do, whether they admit it publically or not.

    Identikit 'manifactured' boyband singers are presumed to have had vocal coaching, yet not rock singers. It's all about 'cool'. And, at root, probably sexual selection.

    This is why worryingly vast swathes of the population see reality shows like The X Factor as a short cut to celebrity. They believe they have a 'gift from God', because their mother and the blokes down the pub told them so, and are therefore already the 'finished article', just like those grubby wasters in their favourite band appear to be.

    A reluctance to sing in public, I think, is only exacerbated by these shows since Simon Cowell et al are looking for a very specific type of singing, with anything else casually rejected. Would Lennon, Thom Yorke or Liam Gallagher make it through the first stage? Probably not, but if, in some bizarre parallel universe, they failed the audition, they'd probably have the mental strength not to let it hold them back.

    I think I'll shut up now and get the book. Does it also examine the emotional response to different tonalities/keys, Bryan?

  8. No, it doesn't, Johnny. Thanks for the long and thoughtful response.

  9. Love is delusional because it depends upon various false beliefs such as 'this person is the person whose company I will value most for the rest of my life.'

    The lover is deluded by his/her emotions and instincts, and anyone capable of dispassionately analysing the truth-value of beliefs is capable of judging that it is delusional.

    The fact that it's a delusional belief doesn't entail that we should, or could, refrain from love. As Mark says, we don't really have a choice.

  10. You're muddling several different levels of argument, Gordon.
    The state of being in love is plainly real enough irrespective of the outcome. This is all that is necessary to make the original point. If you deny this, you would have to say that the state of being in pain is delusional. You can't say to a person you are wrong to believe you are in pain any ore than you can say they are wrong to think they are in love.
    I could go on but I think that's the gist of it.

  11. Gordon, you're just not gettin' enough.

    Do you not have Google in England? You could find "" and sign up!

  12. I don't think Gordon (or Humphrys) meant to say that the "state of love" was delusional, but the commitment that is based on it. Humphrys wrote:

    "To marry and make the love commitment is the nearest thing to faith I know because it is something done with the same degree of risk."

    In other words it was the conscious reaction to the state of love which could not be rationally demonstrated.

    A comparison can be made with religious belief in that so long as both parties share the delusion, everything should work out fine. The same for religious communities. The problem arises, of course, when that shared sense of meaning is lost by one or both parties.

  13. Love is delusional because it depends upon various false beliefs such as 'this person is the person whose company I will value most for the rest of my life.'

    Gordon, didn't your mother ever smack you for playing with the dictionary like that? You have expanded the meaning of the word "delusional" from believing in a demonstrably erroneous fact to predicting the future with an unwarranted or naive certainty, all the while taking full advantage of the negative, even disturbing, import of the word.

    I must remember to tell dear old Aunt Martha and Uncle Bill that they set a world record for delusional behaviour. They will be so proud.

  14. my mum had this saying, passed down from her mum no doubt: ''...always wanting to know the ins and outs of a cat's arse!''. I didn't know what it meant and I didn't ask but it sounded funny and it sounded right. Only later did I begin to understand it.

    I liked the piece on the music though he didn't go far enough. what about feeling irritated by it and why does most (popular but not necessarily pop) music leave us unmoved?

    As for Humphrys - who on earth (no pun intended) did he think he was praying to? I don't think he was a real atheist - he was a believer in denial.

    gordon, when I read your comment I thought; would christmas be a better time without santa?

  15. In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins says he is using the word "delusion" in the sense of "a false belief or impression".

    The belief that love is "till death us do part" is obviously a false belief in many cases, one that goes beyond what can be rationally deduced from evidence, and therefore must count as a "delusion" in Dawkins' sense.

    Is this (as Peter Burnet suggests)to confuse trust or hope for the future, which may admit to the possibility of disappointment, with a conviction about the present (the existence of God) which has no rational basis?

    Possibly. But it depends on how the belief works. It could be that Peter's Aunt Martha and Uncle Bill have believed all their lives that no other relationship could have any meaning, when in fact (looked at objectively) other relationships could have worked better. In that sense, I suspect, most successful marriages do have a necessary element of "delusion" about them.

  16. Anon:

    Isn't the idea that there ever could be outside observors even theoretically capable of considering the evidence and making a more reliable "objective' judgment on that score than Aunt Martha and Uncle Bill themselves the mother of all delusions? Yet it is the one that supports a whole industry of social scientists and caring professions, who hold to it fanatically.

  17. If Gordon sought to stir up debate, he succeeded. Admittedly, he appears to have introduced a little confusion through his, perhaps, careless use of 'delusional', but then scientists seem to toss that word around as though handling a sack of spuds rather than, say, a delicate, sophisticated laser. I mention laser because Gordon clearly knows a hell of a lot about being able to see the light (Blog: 'McCabism' 1st September).

  18. Peter

    An interesting thought. And many religious believers take the same view of "outsiders" who challenge their beliefs.

    (Sorry, didn't intend to post anonymously at 2:44 pm. I was following on from my comment at 1:39.)

  19. Agreed, Bryan and Philip: the emotion of love certainly exists. It is love which is delusional, not the belief in the existence of love.

    The beliefs upon which love depends are either false, or merely, as Peter points out, unjustified by the evidence. Beliefs which are false or unjustified by the evidence are delusional, and because love depends upon such beliefs, love is a delusion.

  20. But of course (from what I can gather from today's articles) the big issue for John Humphrys was not so much the nature of love, but whether good and evil are delusional concepts. It would be interesting to get John Humphrys and Richard Dawkins together on this one...

  21. Love it. You can't beat a good scrap on a Sunday. Of course, the sodium-burning love we experience at the beginning of the journey makes us crazy. Thankfully, it is short-lived. And, later on, as it wears off, another kind of love emerges. This kind of love is less fun, I suppose, but more rational, more enduring and, as the years pass, far more rewarding. Enjoyed your pieces on music and Humphries, Bryan.

  22. This kind of love is less fun

    Neil, you mean you are so naive and immature that you actually believe wild, carefree uninhibited sex and travel without obligations beats an intimate, fretful chat during the washing up with your beloved about your wayward teen's breach of probation before you collapse in exhaustion in bed at 8:00 pm in order to forget you have no idea where the money to pay the mortgage will come from? You young 'uns just don't understand love.

  23. Ah, Peter, you have it exactly.

    Luckily, my teen still at home is behaving acceptably at the moment. And the one who went to college is doubtless being bad (she's at that No. 1 party school in America), but we don't see or hear about it at a remove of 6 hours.

  24. Montaigne said that he and his friend Etienne de la Boetie loved each other "because it was he, because it was I." Gordon, it seems to me, is confusing love with merely falling in love. Genuine love - as opposed to "luv" - isn't a belief one arrives at by virtue some chain of reasoning. It is the outcome of an encounter. Of course, you have to be open to it, willing to take a risk, which I suppose is difficult if the only thing you can settle for in life is some sort of narrow mathematical certainty.

  25. Excerpt from the transcript of Gordon McCabe's engagement party:

    Gordon: "Julie and I would like to thank you all for coming to witness and celebrate the love we share for each other--whatever love is."

    Guests: "Oh no, not again!"

  26. Peter, naivety is essential. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to get up every morning, change a nappy, get the kids their breakfast, shave, shower, make lunches, wipe jam off the shoulder of my clean shirt, put the bin out, eat my breakfast in the car while my wife ticks me off because I haven't renewed the tax disk, and then work all day before driving home in rush hour traffic to make dinner and... shit.. I can't go on... I'm so lucky it makes my want to cry.

  27. Oh goodo, Neil, I'm impressed. You are obviously well on your way to cracking the deeply spiritual seventh circle of love your pals rutting casually and swilling wine in Majorca will never know.

    But I jest, of course. This has nothing to do with you at all. You actually have no choice. It is your genes pushing you on relentlessly. Fun little critters, aren't they?

  28. What would this Dawkins person make of homosexual (male or female) love and sex - since it has no evident purpose of genetic perpetuation? Is it evil in his world view? Why do homosexual men and women fall in love & have sex, since they are on the whole genetic full stops?

  29. Presumably he would say that, once we get rid of that little genetic misfiring called religion, the play will be over and it will be time to relax and enjoy ourselves at the reception.

  30. Goodness me, there hasn't been such opprobrium directed towards the name of 'Gordon' since the last Conservative party strategy meeting.

    Still, all the ad hominem arguments make a change from the non sequiturs.

  31. Susan B., chastened (a bit),September 03, 2007 6:21 pm

    Gordon, now, now. We're teasing you because we figure you can take it -- you often do say controversial things that are bound to get dissenting responses.

    Anyway, if I have learned anything about British folk, it's that the teasing is relentless and if you can't take it, you'd better move to a less witty and sarcastic place.

    Just remember when I was being lambasted in the anti-American thread, or the frat-boys-on-Appleyard thread ...

    Please don't take your ball and go home......Play with us!

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