25 September 2015

The Complex Phenomenon of Religion.



It's 25 years today since my father died. His death was one of the events that got me thinking about life, death, and all that. I dedicate this essay to:

Peter Harry Attwood (1935-1990).

Religion is sometimes portrayed as a simple phenomenon. As a simple crutch for the weak, as a "violent" control mechanism and so on. Although these kinds of criticisms sometimes contain a grain of truth, in fact religion more generally is a complex phenomenon that emerges from the interaction of a number of qualities, characteristics, or abilities that humans possess. In this essay I will try to outline a set of minimal common features of all religions and link them to an evolutionary account of humans.

The diagram below attempts to summarise some of the key factors involved and to show how these factors interact to produce the basic phenomena of religion. However, any given religion may include many more elements and be considerably more complex that this summary suggests. At the end of the essay I will add a few comments about Buddhism as a religion and about what makes Buddhism distinctive (or not).




Religion seems to minimally involve supernatural agents, morality, and an afterlife. I have argued that belief in all these is "natural", by which I mean they are emergent properties of the way our brains work. I do not mean that these are necessarily accurate intuitions in the sense of being true. However, as ideas which have guided human behaviour they have been very successful in helping us go from being just another species of primate, to the highly sophisticated cultures we live in today (and I include all present day human cultures in this). What follows is not a critique, but a description. There are possible critiques of every point, both in the conclusions of religieux and of the reasons for things that I am proposing here. But I want to outline a story about religion without getting bogged down in the critique of it. In most cases I've made the critique previously. 

Supernatural agents emerge from a combination of such properties of the brain such as pareidolia (the propensity to see faces everywhere); agent detection and theory of mind (Barrett; see also Why Are Karma and Rebirth Are Still Plausible?). Fundamental to the supernatural is ontological dualism and the matter/spirit dichotomy.

Theory of mind is tuned to make living in social groups feasible and means we tend to see other agents in human terms (anthropomorphism). Supernatural agents are human-like in their desires and goals, and counter-intuitive only in that they lack a physical body. Because this is minimally counter-intuitive it makes supernatural agents more interesting and memorable. Thus, human communities tend to be surrounded by a halo of supernatural agents. Lacking bodies, supernatural agents may possess associated abilities, such as the ability to move unhindered by physical obstructions, but they are often located in some physical object, such as a tree, rock or home. Those who can bridge the two worlds of matter and spirit we call shaman. Though of course spirits also operate in the two worlds, if spirits remained wholly in their spirit world they would be a lot less interesting. For some reason the spirit world seems inherently leaky. Shamans interpret and use knowledge gained from spirits to guide decision making in the material realm. Supernatural agents can become gods and when they do, shamans become priests.

Fundamental to this account of religion is the social nature of human beings. Any account of religion which rejects the social nature of humanity or demonizes the basic structures and functions of human groups is simply uninteresting (so that is almost all psychology and most of social theory inspired by French philosophers). Unfortunately in this libertarian age there is a tendency to take a dismissive or critical stance on human groups. Social living is undoubtedly involves compromises for the individual. But the evolutionary benefits massively outweigh any perceived loss of autonomy. What's more human social groups look and work very much like other primate social groups. This has been apparent since Richard Leakey sent three young women to Africa to study chimps, gorillas and baboons in the 1960s. The most revealing of these studies was Jane Goodall's work on chimpanzees at Gombe stream, which showed chimp groups to share many traits with human groups. As social animals our behaviour is tuned towards being a member of a group, as it is in all other social primates.

Robin Dunbar showed that the average size of group that a social animal generally lives in, is correlated with the ratio of the volume of neo-cortex to the rest of the brain. For humans this predicts an average group size of ca. 150, a figure for which there is now considerable empirical support. The Dunbar Number represents a cognitive limit, beyond which we cannot maintain knowledge of each member of a group, their roles in hierarchies, mating preferences, past interactions, that is the information we need to be a well informed group member. In practice humans typically organise themselves into units of about 15, 50, 150, 500, 1500 and so on. Groups of different sizes serving different functions and operating with differing levels of intimacy and knowledge. As well as collecting information through observation, we use theory of mind to infer the disposition of other group members. The smallest viable unit of humanity is probably the 150 sized group.

Social living depends for it's success on the active participation of all group members and social norms. Norms are primarily to help the group function effectively. But they may work indirectly, for example to help strengthen group identity "We are the people who....". If social animals were, as economists claim, fundamentally selfish, then groups could not function. We are adapted to being cooperative. But there are temptations to freeload or break other group norms. Up to around the 150 number, groups maintain norms by simple observation. Everyone knows everyone else's business. 

Anthropomorphism allows us to relate to non-human beings as part of our group. We also have the ability to empathise with strangers, though empathy evolved to help us understand the internal disposition of other individuals or small groups. Empathy is personal, which is why we humans still have trouble comprehending large scale disasters without some Jarrod Diamond has noted that in places like the highlands of New Guinea, where the population is almost at a maximum density for hunter-gather lifestyles and thus competition for resources is intense, that tolerance of strangers is low (which is also true of other primate species). In many instances, strangers are killed on sight. However surpluses and trade between groups makes tolerance of strangers more feasible. Thus the factors which lead to civilisations (i.e. much larger groupings) also facilitated tolerance of strangers. Ara Norenzayan has argued that religion with "Big Gods" was a major factor in enabling the large scale cooperation implied by civilisation. Large groups mean that keeping track of each group member becomes more difficult. Monitoring compliance with behavioural norms starts to break down. 

Social groups which perceive an active halo of supernatural beings incorporated into their daily lives may rely on these supernatural agents as monitors of group norms (Norenzayan). In which case the role of the shaman is also expanded. The beings involved in monitoring are likely to become more active and present. They may begin to play an active role, for example punishing transgressive behaviour. Because supernatural agents are already counter-intuitive in lacking physical bodies, they can easily evolve in this direction. Those involved in monitoring the social sphere have a tendency to become omnipresent (the better to see you) and, as a result, omniscient. Once they start dishing our punishments they can become omnipotent as well. Thus ordinary supernatural agents can become gods.

Once gods emerge they typically require more elaborate acknowledgement, rather like a dominant member of the tribe gets first preference in food and mates. A group may enact elaborate and costly rituals aimed at securing the cooperation of spirits and gods. Making sacrifices (in the sense of giving scarce resources) helps to encourage participation in group norms (see also Martyrs Maketh the Religion). Costly sacrifices bolster the faith of followers. Those who officiate at such ceremonies are likely shaman initially, but become focussed on interpreting and enacting the will of the gods rather than spirits in general. In other words they become priests. The prestige of priests rises with the prestige of the gods they serve. Along with sacrifice, priests may introduce arbitrary taboos that help define group identity. As Foucault noted, the power of the group or leaders to shape the subject is matched by the desire of the subject to be shaped. As members of a social species we make ourselves into subjects of power; or even into the kind of subjects (selves) that accept the compromises of social lifestyles. As social primates we evolved to participate in social groups with hierarchies. On the other hand evolution no longer entirely defines us - we did not evolve to use written communication for example (which is why writing is so much more difficult than talking).

We have a tendency to think in terms of reasons and purposes - teleology. In teleological thinking, things happen for a reason. We exist for a reason. The world exists for a reason. Things happen for a reason. In modern life we often seek reasons in individual psychology. In the past other types of reasons included supernatural interference and magic. The stories we tell about these reasons for events become our mythology. Even so we are left with questions. If we are here for a reason, we want to know what it is (because it is far from obvious to most people). If following the group norms or the prescriptions of gods is supposed to make everything run smoothly, then why does it not? If gods are members of our tribe and can intervene to help us, why do they not?

Despite the emphasis on keeping group norms and associating this with the success of the group, life is patently unfair. We can be the very best group member, keep all the rules, and yet we still suffer misfortune, illness, and death. The world is unjust. But we tend to believe the opposite, i.e. that the world is just, that reasons make it so. If everything happens for a reason, then bad things also happen for a reason. But what could that reason possibly be? The meeting of injustice and teleology is extremely fruitful for religion, but before getting further into it we need to consider the afterlife.

The matter/spirit dichotomy seems to emerge naturally from generalising about human experience. Some people have vivid experiences of leaving their body for example which, on face value, would only be possible if the locus of experiencing is separate from the physical body. The very metaphors that we use to talk about aspects of lived experience tend to frame the matter/spirit dichotomy in a particular way. Matter is dull, lifeless, rigid. Spirit is light, lively, and infinitely flexible. Matter is low, spirit high. And so on (see Metaphors and Materialism). We understand life through Vitalism: living beings are matter made flexible by an inspiration of spirit. Spirit in many languages is closely associated with the breath—spiritus, qi, prāṇa, ātman, pneuma—perhaps the most important characteristic of living beings in the pre-scientific world.

The greatest injustice seems to be that our breath leaves us, i.e. we die. All living beings act to sustain and maintain their own existence, their own life. Self-consciousness gives us the knowledge of the certainty of our own death. In a dualistic worldview, death occurs when the spirit leaves the body. The body returns to being inanimate matter (dust to dust). In this worldview, spirit is not affected by death in the same way as matter. Indeed spirit is not affected by death at all. Once the spirit leaves the body a number of post-mortem possibilities exist: hanging around as a supernatural agent; travelling to another world (to the realm of the ancestors for example, or to paradise); or taking another human form. The precise workings are specific to cultures, but all cultures seem to have an afterlife and the variations are limited to one or other of these possibilities.

Something interesting happens when we combine normative morality, teleological thinking, and the afterlife. If things happen for a reason and one of the main reasons is our own behaviour and there is injustice, then it stands to reason, that our own behaviour is (potentially) a cause of injustice. We link behaviour to outcomes. And if everything happens to a reason it's hard to imagine the morally good not being rewarded and the morally wicked not being punished. And if something bad happens, then maybe we have transgressed in some way. In which case a shaman or priest must consult the unseen, but all seeing supernatural monitors (this is incidentally why the Buddha had to have access to this knowledge). This world, the material world composed primarily of matter, is manifestly unjust. By contrast, an afterlife is very much a world of spirit and as the basic metaphors show, the world of spirit is the polar opposite of the world of matter. If the world of matter is unjust (and it is) then the world of spirit is by necessity just. The rules of the afterlife must be very different. Gods hold sway there for example. Gods whose reason for being is to supervise the behaviour of humans. So it is entirely unsurprising that the function of an afterlife, in those communities which practice morality, is judgement of the dead. This happens in all the major religions, and dates back at least to the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Here we have, I think, all the major components of religion. And they emerge from lower-level, relatively simple properties of the (social) human mind at work. Thus religion is a natural phenomenon. It is not, as opponents of religion like to assert, something artificial that is superimposed on societies, but something that naturally emerges out of anatomically modern humans with a pre-scientific worldview living together. If chimps were only a little more like us, they too would develop like this. Neanderthals almost certainly had religion of a sort. The naturalness of religion predicts that every society of humans ought to have religion or something like it. And they do, except where people are WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic. WEIRD people are psychological outliers from the rest of humanity. But WEIRD culture is build upon layers of religious culture, with Christianity superimposed on early forms of religion (and perhaps several layers of this). Again, for emphasis, the naturalness of religion does not mean that a religious account of the world is either accurate or precise. It is certainly successful, depending on how one measures success, but as a description of the world the religious view tends to be flawed making it both inaccurate and imprecise. 

Religious communities have some distinct advantages over non-religious communities in terms of sustaining group identity and encouraging cooperation.  The Abrahamic religions certainly have many millions of followers, and the followers of these religions have established a vast hegemony over most of the planet. On the other hand Christianity seems to be waning. Religious ideologies are giving way to political ideologies. Communism was one such that is also on the wane. Neoliberalism seems to have survived the near collapse of the world's economies to continue to dominate public discourse on politics and economics. Liberal Humanism seems to be a potent force for good still, though as we have seen it cannot be successfully linked to Neoliberal economics. 


Buddhism

There are those who argue that Buddhism is not a religion. This is naive at best, and probably disingenuous. Buddhism has all the same kinds of concerns as other religions, all of the main components outlined above—supernatural agents, morality, and an afterlife—and many of the secondary components as well. In many ways, Buddhism is simply another manifestation of the same dynamic that produces religious ideas and practices in other groups. Sure we have an abstract supernatural monitor, but karma does exactly the same job as Anubis, Varuṇa, Mazda, or Jehovah in monitoring behaviour. It's merely a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one. WEIRD Buddhists play down the halo of supernatural beings, but traditional Buddhist societies in Asia all have folk beliefs which involve spirits (e.g. Burmese nat) and many similar animistic beliefs, such as tree spirits (rukkhadevatā) are Canonical. 

David Chapman (@meaningness) and I had a very interesting exchange on Twitter a few days ago (storified). DC noted that some of those who are opposed to secularisation of mindfulness training, are concerned about disconnecting mindfulness from "Buddhist ethics". They seem to argue that the problem is that mindfulness without ethics is either meaningless or dangerous, or both. DC's point was that there was nothing distinctive about Buddhist ethics and that, in the USA at least, what masquerades as "Buddhist" ethics is simply the prevailing ethics of WEIRD North America. So to argue against mindfulness being taught separately from Buddhist ethics is meaningless. For example Tricycle Magazine has run positive stories on Buddhists in the US military. If soldiers can be Buddhists, then Buddhist ethics really do have no meaning. Indeed there is nothing very distinctive about Buddhist ethics more generally, nothing that distinguishes Buddhist ethics from, say, Christian ethics. Sure, the stated rationale for being ethical is different, but the outcome is the same: love thy neighbour. (David has started his blog series on this: “Buddhist ethics” is a fraud).

Certainly Buddhism is not the only religion to use a variety of religious techniques for working with the mind, including concentration and reflection exercises. Mediation was a word in English long before Buddhism came on the scene (noted ca. 1200 CE). Arguably all the practices that we associate with Buddhism were in fact borrowed from other religions anyway (particularly Brahmanism and Jainism). According to Buddhism's own mythology, meditation was already being practised to a very high degree before Buddhism came into being. The Buddha simply adapted procedures he had already learned.

So is there anything about Buddhism as a religion that is distinctive? Some would argue that pratītya-samutpāda is distinctively Buddhist. However too many of us portray conditioned arising as a theory of cause and effect, or worse, a Theory of Everything. It is certainly a failure as the latter, and far from being very useful in the former role (the words involved don't even mean caused). Since almost everyone seems confused about the domain of application of this idea, one wonders whether Buddhists can lay claim to the theory at all. If Buddhists make pratītyasamutpāda into an ontology then pratītyasamutpāda would hardly seem to be Buddhist any longer. Nowadays, Buddhists all seem to think that having read about nirvāṇa or śūnyatā in a book makes one an expert on "reality".

DC and I tentatively agreed that any distinction that Buddhism might have is probably in the area of cultivating states in which sense-experience and ordinary mental-experience cease, what I would call nirodha-samāpatti or śūnyatā-vimokṣa etc. It is these states in particular that seem to promote the transformation of the mind that makes Buddhism distinctive. It's just unfortunate that we have so many books about these states, and so many people talking about them from having read the books (and writing books on the basis of having read the books), and so few people who experience such states. The thing that distinguishes Buddhism is something that only a tiny minority are realistically ever going to seriously cultivate, and probably a minority of them are going to succeed in experiencing. So Buddhism in practice, for the vast majority consists in beliefs and activities that are not distinctively Buddhist at all - loving your neighbours, communal singing, relaxation techniques, philosophical speculation, propitiation of supernatural agents, and so on.

And while some people are having awakenings, the level of noise through which they have to communicate is overwhelming. Buddhists have adopted so much psychological and psycho-analytic jargon that Buddhism as presented can seem indistinguishable from either at times. One gets the sense that today's "lay" Buddhism is closely aligned with the goals of psychologists. Not only this but we also get a lot of interference from pseudo-science, Advaita Vedanta, and home grown philosophies.

So, to sum up, religion is a natural phenomenon. It emerges from, is an emergent property of, a brain evolved for living in large social groups. A religious worldview makes sense to so many people, even WEIRD people, because it fits with our non-reflective beliefs about the world. Buddhism sits squarely in the middle of this as another religious worldview. But this does not mean that a religious worldview is accurate or precise, or that a secularised version of religion is an improvement on religion per se. Secularised versions of Buddhism are simply religion tailored for WEIRD people. It is more appealing to secularists who none the less feel that something is missing from their lives (because they are evolved to be religious). If Buddhism is distinctive, it is distinctive in ways that the vast majority of people will never have access to.

The main point I take from this is that religion is comprehensible. People who hold to religious views are comprehensible. While I think religious views are erroneous, I can see why so many people disagree, why religion remains so compelling for so many people. I can sympathise with them. And while I'm not an evangelist, it does make it easier for me to stay in dialogue with, for examples, members of my family who are committed Christians. As with the problem of communicating evolution, part of the problem with religion remaining plausible is the sheer ineptitude of scientists as communicators - their remarkable ability to understand string theory, or whatever, seems to be matched by an astounding lack of insight into their own species. And philosophers, whose job to is make the world comprehensible, have also largely failed. They both fail on the level of making new discoveries comprehensible and on the level of communicating why new discoveries are important. And when they fail, priests and other charlatans step into the gap, and that too is understandable. 

~~oOo~~

References to particular works or thinkers that are not linked to directly can be checked in the bibliography tab of the blog. 

18 September 2015

The Failure to Communicate Evolution


EVOLUTION IS IN THE NEWS a lot these days. Buzzy scientists, like waspish Richard Dawkins, make stinging attacks on Creationists, who respond in kind: The God Delusion versus The Dawkins Delusion. In the US something like a pitched battle is going on in some places, where creationists want to replace science in schools with a literal reading of the Bible.

When evolution is a self-evident fact, and I think it is, why are so many people unconvinced by it? Building on my work on the psychology of belief I'd like to use problem of communicating evolution, or more precisely the problem of failing to communicate evolution, as a case study.

In my essay Facts and Feelings I set out my take on Antonio Damasio's model of how we process new information. Presented with some new item of information we evaluate the likelihood it is true. As per Justin Barrett's theory of belief, discussed more recently, we make these decisions based on fit with existing non-reflective beliefs. In any situation we will usually have a range of facts (items of information we consider to be true) and we have to judge which information is relevant to the situation, and which information take precedence in determining our course of action. I called this salience. Not everything that makes sense is salient; and not everything that is salient makes sense. 

A few hundred years ago in Europe, everyone knew that God created the world and this seemed to make sense to the vast majority. It was also deeply salient because the existence, omnipotence and omniscience of God were always important factors in understanding any situation and deciding how to act. The Church was the final authority on these matters and had adopted an earth-centric model of the universe. All the "heavenly" bodies, the sun, moon, planets and stars, orbited the earth. And then the situation began to change. Astronomers observed, for instance that the orbits of the planets were very difficult to explain if they orbited the earth and simple it they orbited the sun instead. And the orbits were ellipses rather than perfect circles. They saw that some "stars", visible only with a telescope, orbited not the earth or the sun, but Jupiter (the moons of Jupiter). Old sureties began to break down. Scientific Empiricism started to come into it's own. Knowledge based on closely observing the world began to supplant knowledge gained through abstract or theological speculations. Astronomers, using nothing but simple telescopes and patient observation, changed how we see the world and our place in it. Later with more sophisticated telescopes they introduced more paradigm changes. Now we know that our sun is an average, nondescript star in a fairly ordinary galaxy. One star out of 100 billion stars, in one galaxy out of 100 billion galaxies. Of course some of this knowledge is inferred. But the whole package has been observed so often that there can be no doubt that this is the case. It's as obvious a fact as that Cambridge is a town (population of about 120,000) in the United Kingdom, a country of population ca. 65 million.

A simple view of this change is that this shift in our understanding happened simply because the empirical knowledge was more true than theology. But my model suggests that it must also have been more salient to the people concerned. Why was astronomical knowledge more salient? I'm no great historian, but it seems to me that the Roman Catholic Church was starting to lose authority at around the same time. Martin Luther died in 1546. The key figures of the astronomical revolution were Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543), Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601), Galileo (1564 – 1642) and Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630). The concerns that led to the forming of Protestant churches probably helped to provide an environment in which the observations of astronomers would be taken more seriously. The world was changing in others ways as well. Christopher Columbus (1450 or 51 – 1506) and Hernán Cortés (1485 – 1547) were busy expanding the Spanish Empire and enriching Spain immeasurably around this same time, while Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the earth. This was also the time of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo, the beginning of European involvement in slavery, and so on. The Renaissance is in full swing and along with it the rediscovery of ancient Greek Humanism.

Truth is relatively simple considered alongside salience. What makes a truth salient, is tied up with psychology, culture, and politics. I will argue that the problem of evolution is complex, because the truth of it is not self-evident to many, there is massive competition in terms of salience, there has been a failure of empathy in communicating evolution. 


Evolution

Empiricism, science, has progressed in leaps and bounds since the 17th Century and the telescope. One of the great milestones in the progress of knowledge about the world was the publication of the On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1849. Of course this book did not, in point of fact, explain the origin of species, nor did it speak of "evolution", but Darwin subsequently did write about evolution and his name became synonymous with the theory. It was to be almost a century before a plausible theory of the origin of the variation upon which natural selection worked. This came with the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick, Franklin, Watson & Wilkins, and the subsequent identification of sections of DNA called genes which encode the structures of proteins that a new more complete Darwinism was born which explained both variation and natural selection at the level of genes. 

The theory which combines genetics with Darwinism is sometimes called NeoDarwinism (the term is pejorative). NeoDarwinism is often referred to as The Theory of Evolution, but it really should be A Theory of Evolution. In fact I do not think it is the best explanation for the emergence of new species, nor is it a complete description of heredity and variation. Recent discoveries in epigenetics forced a reconsideration of the NeoDarwininan account of genes. Genes are not passive carriers of information, rather the genome as a whole is actively responding to the environment. For example, the amount of food available in one generation can affect how genes are expressed in a subsequent one for example. Also the genome of our symbiotic microbiome is many orders of magnitude larger than our own and can strongly affect our bodies, to the point where it has been called our "second genome". Study of the interactions between us and our symbionts has been slowed by the dominance of the NeoDarwian view which tends to see everything in isolation. This reduction of heredity to the "selfish gene" was what prompted me to refer to Richard Dawkins' popular explanation of genetics as "Neoliberalism applied to biology". In fact Neoliberalism is libertarian and utilitarian in character and these are both class-based ideologies. (See The Politics of Evolution and Modernist Buddhism).

In my view the best explanation of the origin of species is one with almost as long a pedigree but one which, though having greater explanatory power, is less fashionable. The Theory of Symbiogenesis is closely associated with the late Lynn Margulis whose seminal 1966 paper, under her married name Lynn Sagan, On the Origin of Mitosing Cells (note the implied connection with Darwin in her title) showed that mitochondria were once free living bacteria. However well known this idea is today, it was originally rejected by the mainstream, and Margulis's ideas were marginalised. Margulis saw evolution as "community ecology over time", as a process which included elements of competition and war amongst species or genes, but was primarily driven by elements of cooperation, symbiosis, and combination. I agree with her assessment that Darwinian evolution, with its basis in metaphors of war and later selfishness, appealed to male scientists more than Symbiogenetic evolution which appeared too feminine.

However we describe the mechanism, it seems clear that species evolve from common ancestors and that all life on currently found on earth has a common ancestry, and that the process of life evolving has occurred over thousands of millions of years. No other explanation can fit all the facts. And yet some religieux, particularly fundamentalist Christians, refuse to accept these facts. Some Christians maintain that the Bible is a factual account of the history of the Earth. Why is this belief so tenacious? How can such people refuse to believe in evolution? I think there are a number of reasons, for example I see weaknesses in the theories that leave loopholes; a failure to create appropriate salience; and a failure to establish an empathetic connection.


Loopholes

Theoretically a infinite number of monkeys working over an infinite time span would eventually reproduce Tolstoy's novel, War and Peace, by accident. The time required to produce a novel by random typing is so very long that the probability might as well be zero. But this deeply counter-intuitive idea is central to NeoDarwinism. In this view random mutations are the source of variability, and survival of the fittest weeds out variations which are not viable. It's as though we were to start with the children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and introduced random typos and printing errors over a million printings. We don't expect War and Peace to emerge. We expect the text to become less and less comprehensible and eventually to become random gibberish. We expect this, and it is precisely what we observe happening in copying. Buddhist Sanskrit manuscripts being copied in Nepal are literally gradually becoming incomprehensible because the scribes cannot (or do not) properly error check. It so happens that the most recent manuscript of the Heart Sutra to be identified was discovered by me in a digitised collection from Nepal. This manuscript is rife with errors, omissions and additions. Over about 280 words in Sanskrit, my edition has 140 footnotes, so that on average every second word is problematic. As it is, the manuscript is only readable if we know what it ought to say. On it's own it is already gibberish, though with enough surviving elements to identify the text it descends from. The second law of thermodynamics (entropy) tells us that all closed systems should become more disordered over time. This is what happens at the level of chromosomes and cells. They gradually lose coherence and become more disordered, so that replication errors give rise to cancers for example. To date replication errors in ageing cells have never been observed given rise to rejuvenation. Errors wreck the process of replication, and mutations are vastly more likely to give rise to errors than viable code. We can call this the replication problem

So how does mutation drive improvements in the genome? The idea is that some small proportion of mutations enable an organism to better fit it's environment. And we do see some adaptive variations. The classic example, from texts when I studied biology, is the white moths that sometimes throw up a black individual. In the 19th century everything gets covered in soot and white moths are obvious and eaten by birds, while the rare black variety survive and become the dominant type. But then in the 20th century there's a big clean up and the situation reverses. The white moths come back because in this case white is the dominant gene. The argument is that the different versions of the gene for colour in the moths are the result of mutation and that environmental factors make one more adaptive than the other. 

In order for a mutation to be passed on the individual carrying it must survive and breed. But the vast majority mutations are deleterious (are cancer causing for example), and to be passed on the mutation must occur in gametes (ova and sperm in animals). Even given vast scales of time involved in evolution, this is all very counter-intuitive. The replication problem is a loophole. Any theory of evolution which allows for random mutation to be the driving force, is just not convincing because it is counter-intuitive. Presented with NeoDarwinism as The Theory of Evolution, plenty of intelligent and right thinking people conclude that it too unlikely to be credible. Lynn Margulis argued that while the NeoDarwinian account of evolution might account for variability with species, it did not account for the emergence of new species.

On the other hand, of course, we do see variability in genes. Such variations are apparent in humans for example and have formed the basis of the out of Africa hypothesis - the idea that all modern humans migrated from East Africa ca. 75,000 years ago to colonise every continent is partly based on tracing variations in genes in mitochondria and on the Y chromosome. But these variations are necessarily tiny and are not sufficient to define new species. The gene, or complex of genes, does the same job in all it's variations. Despite quite widely varying physical features, there is presently only one species of humans on the planet, a rather unusual occurrence in the history of hominids. Which brings us to the next loophole, the problem of observing speciation

The scientific literature on the emergence of new species is sparse, and often inconclusive. This is not helped by the fact that we have competing and contradictory definitions of what a species is. Summaries of this literature [1] produce what seems like a relatively small number of candidate cases where speciation seems to have occurred, but many of the examples are not due to the mutation of a gene, but to hybridization and polyploidy (mutation in whole chromosomes by doubling or tripling). Where two populations have diverged to the point of being unable to physically mate or produce viable offspring it is usually from artificial stress placed differentially on two initially identical populations in a laboratory. In the wild, the London Underground Mosquito its thought to be a naturally occurring example. However as Lynn Margulis notes with evident satisfaction (Symbiotic Planet, p.7-8) in an earlier, similar case with Drosophila fruit flies it was shown that what changed was not the organism, but its bacterial symbiont. Indeed from Boxhorn's summary it is not always obvious what has caused the phenotypic change. In most cases of so-called speciation, no gene mutation has been identified, nor has anyone gone back to alter an identified gene in the origin population to artificially produce a new species, though of course we have altered many genes in many different organisms. These would be a minimal requirements for confirming that speciation was due to the mechanisms proposed by NeoDarwinians. Since very few people are interested in symbiosis, changes in, for example, gut bacteria are seldom investigated and cannot yet be ruled out in most of the promising cases. Given the centrality of speciation for the theory of evolution there is surprisingly little research aimed at identifying and replicating the mechanisms of speciation.

Worse, the sources for these 'facts' are not freely available, and the vast majority are not qualified to assess how true they are since they are couched in jargon it takes years to learn. Science journalism further muddies the water because it frequently opts for sensationalism over solid results. Journalistic standards are very much lower than those of scientific publications. And here the specific problem is that journalists repeatedly report variation as though it is speciation. And it is not. Such easily refutable speculations help to undermine the case for evolution, help to make it seem less plausible to those who have a vested interest in a religious view. The lack of widely cited and well replicated cases of speciation is a major failing of evolutionary science.

Another loophole left by NeoDarwinism we can call the incremental problem. This is the argument that something like the eye could not have evolved one step at a time because it is far to complex. This is partly a failure of imagination. We cannot imagine the steps required to go from a single light-sensitive cell to a complex eye with specialist organs like a lens, eye muscles, various fluids, specialised nerve cells and so on. The number of potential steps is enormous and the tiny variations which might accumulate are difficult to put together into a coherent picture. Big numbers are just abstract concepts for most people and have no kind of real life analogue: we struggle with geological time periods especially. "A million years" has more or less no meaning to most people. Thus the evolution of complex organs through random (undirected) mutations in genes, is also counter-intuitive. 

So, even though I am educated in the sciences and have studied evolution, and even though I believe evolution to be self-evident, the details of how evolution works are far from clear to me. A good deal of the detail seems counter-intuitive as it is commonly explained. NeoDarwinism in particular seems a less plausible explanation of speciation than Symbiogenesis. A minor point in favour of Buddhism is that it does not conflict with the basic idea of evolution, even though the cosmology and cosmogony that many Buddhists cite is incompatible with a scientific worldview. On the other hand, for a Young Earth Creationist there are all these loopholes, all these weaknesses in the theories of evolution—the replication problem, the observation problem, and the incremental problem—that make it easy for them to shrug off evolution as a theory. And they have a strong emotional attachment to the competing story in the Bible that means that there is competition for what is most salient in the discussion of what life is and how it changes over time.


Salience

Scientists aim for objectivity. This makes sense. It allows us to get insights into reality by triangulating the observations of many observers. Each observer brings an element of subjectivity to the observation, but by combining the observations of many observers over repeated observations we can eliminate a good deal of what is due to subjectivity. If we observe dispassionately it makes the process more efficient. This approach is sustained in communicating science in official publications. The language is impersonal and favours passive constructions e.g. "the animal was observed to eat an apple." Just the facts. But contrary to the old saw, the facts do not speak for themselves. In ordinary life we rate the importance of information by the emotion that it elicits in us. Those of us who are excited by concepts and science are quite rare. Without any sense of how relevant these facts are, we struggle to assess their salience. We're even puzzled as to why scientists are excited by them and want such huge amounts of money to study them. Recently there's a trend towards funding research on the basis of how much revenue it will generate. I see this as a direct symptom of the failure to communicate the salience of research. Left to their own devices politicians fall back on what they do understand.

Now compare the way that fundamentalists communicate their version of events. The message is accompanied by strong emotions, and these are reinforced by communal rituals, and by peer networks. Preachers not only tell us the facts as they see them, but they communicate both verbally and non-verbally that this is most important thing we have ever heard. The message is simple, clear, and repeated often; and it addresses our most fundamental questions about life and death. The religious message could not have more relevance. One's immortal soul is at stake. And for most people an immortal soul is an intuitive concept, unlike evolution.

It is not so hard to see why some people don't feel any real conflict over what to believe and reject the theory of evolution. It is communicated in such a way that it has little or no salience for them. It is not communicated in a way that demonstrates how important it is to know this. If a person does not value this kind of fact up front, they are not going to be converted by an appeal to intellect. But there is also a countervailing force. When we begin to unravel someone's religious faith we undermine their worldview in many ways. Not simply their view on God's role in creation, but their felt sense of the God's presence; the importance of God's commandments in morality; the whole concept of the afterlife and how it will play out for the individual; the rationale and coping strategies for dealing with adversity; the sense of meaning and purpose that helps them deal with a life working in a bullshit job (and all that goes with that); and so on. It's not that they should simply give up believing in God and will be better for it. We have no reason to think that undermining someone's faith would do anything but harm to them. The wholesale conversion of Westerners to atheism is no doubt a big subject for debate, but to my mind it has created generations of nihilists and hedonists, who threaten to undo much of the progress made since the European Enlightenment through short termism and the individual pursuit of pleasure, wealth, and power without any thought for other people. That one of the main responses to this nihilism is a further retreat into Romanticism is not helpful either. I'm pretty sure that Neoliberalism is not better than Christianity as an ideology.

Even for the average atheist its can be hard to see why believing in evolution is important. Believing or not believing has little or no relevance to how we live our lives: how we work, shop or play. It doesn't make us better people. It won't make us live longer or be more prosperous. There's no reason we should care about evolution. The reason any of us know about it at all, is that eggheads insist that we learn it at school. Which brings us to the third problem.


Empathy

One of the characteristics of the current public debate on religion is hostility. Many prominent atheists now embrace the sobriquet militant. Just as in the theory of evolution, the metaphor most often invoked in these discussions is war. What might have been a discussion or a dialogue, or a dance even, is now a battle. Wars are decided by annihilating the enemy or forcing the survivors to capitulate and lose everything. Verbal exchanges are not aimed at creating understanding, or even communicating facts now, they are aimed at taking positions, landing blows, at undermining opposing positions, and at destroying opposition. Stepping into this theatre of war carries with it the threat of attack. This metaphorical war sometimes erupts into literal conflicts, and in the USA not a few court cases. Not surprisingly in situations where both sides are expressing considerable illwill, there is little actual communication.

There is a good sized body of research on what makes for good communication and how to persuade people of your point of view. Indeed the study of rhetoric dates from ancient Greece. None of this research, nor even common sense, suggests insulting your interlocutor or their beliefs as an effective strategy. Despite this, some of those who lead the secular charge in the war on religion, completely ignore all of this valuable research, and resort to insults and accusations. This issue is much more tense in the USA where Christians themselves are more militant (having been mobilised to political awareness by the political right in the late 1970s). But I think scientists have to have the courage of their convictions. Why are the scientists not using science to inform their rhetoric? Could it be that they lack faith in science, or is it that they don't even consider that they might be poor at communicating? Do leading scientific secularists not observe the results of their actions, reflect form hypotheses and test them? They do not seem to as far as I can tell. They preach to the converted and damn the heretics to hell, as it were. 

The strategy of scientists, presenting people with a series of facts with no clear statement of values, leaves people cold. "Coldness" is part of an extended metaphorical dichotomy relating to our inner life: EMOTIONS ARE HOT; INTELLECT IS COOL. Rational arguments are cool, but purely intellectual people are often perceived as cold. Other phrases which draw on this metaphor are: "He is a cold fish", "She gave him the cold shoulder", "She was frigid". A cadaver is cold to the touch. Warmth is the characteristic of life, warm-blooded animals maintain their body temperature above ambient and thus radiate heat and feel warm to touch. (The use of "hot" and "cool" in reference to Jazz is another story, one I'd love to go into sometime, but a digression too far for this essay). In the Capgras Delusion one can recognise loved ones, or in one recent case one's own reflection, in the sense of seeing and identifying all the details, but a brain injury prevents the connection of the visual details with the emotional response that typically goes with familiarity. The person with Capgras cannot understand the disconnection and typically confabulates a story that the loved one has been replaced by a replica.

On the whole human beings are not moved by bare facts. But it's worse than this. On the whole we see people who try to communicate solely in terms of facts extremely negatively; as cold, unemotional, uncaring, and inhuman. The whole point of the Mr Spock character in Star Trek was that his emotions were just below the surface and constantly threatened to burst out. And even if they did not his apparent coldness highlighted his limitations in dealing with humans, and acted as a contrast to the hot-blooded impulsiveness of Captain Kirk. They were a team that only really functioned well together. And on the contrary people who emotionally communicate a clear sense of values can often get away with being completely irrational.

It's interesting that nature documentaries are a clear exception to this cold style of communication of science. TV producers know that the audience are drawn into their work by drama and intrigue. The facts have to be woven into a narrative which creates an emotional resonance. David Attenborough is a master of this. His documentaries draw the audience in by portraying life as a drama with archetypal characters. This enables the audience to identify with the "characters". This was also part of the fascination with Jane Goodall's work on the chimps at Gombe stream. Her approach of using names helped us to come into relationship with the chimps, to glimpse ourselves in their games, loves, and struggles. And perhaps this dramatic style is a hint to those who would communicate about evolution to a wider audience? We want to know, above all, why we should care about evolution. 

I began writing this essay just after reading Richard Dawkins book Unweaving the Rainbow. In the preface he evinces surprise that his book The Selfish Gene convinced people that he was a nihilist who saw no value in life (he describes people as machines). People apparently often ask him how he even gets out of bed in the morning with his bleak outlook on life. Unweaving the Rainbow is his attempt to show that he is anything a nihilist, that he is alive to the wonder and mystery of life and the poetry of the universe, and is fully convinced that we all should be awed and amazed simply to be alive. He tries to tell the reader that curiosity and fascination with life is what gets him out of bed in the morning. I suggest that part of the problem with The Selfish Gene as literature was that it was not consciously concerned with communicating a sense of values, though I would say that it did unconsciously communicate the values of Neoliberalism. I'm ambivalent at best about his writing and opinions, but no doubt Dawkins has values. However, these values are unspoken in much of his intellectual work, precisely because the academic ideal is to emotional content of communication: the myth of the objective, dispassionate point of view. This has real value in the pursuit of science, but not in communicating to ordinary people. Unweaving the Rainbow appears to be trying to address this point, though I suspect given the low profile the book has in his oeuvre it is rather too oblique. Also a good chunk of the book resorts to being rude about the people he seems to most want to convert to his views; religious believers. He just can't seem to help himself. Whatever his merits as a genetic scientist, Richard Dawkins seems not to understand people very well.


Conclusion


We tend to blame religious people for their failure to embrace evolution. On the contrary I say we can lay the failure to communicate evolution squarely at the door of scientists. They have education and access to the resources, but they squander them. There's a movement in the UK to promote the public understanding of science which is doing great work. Choosing good communicators like David Attenborough, Jim Al Khalili, or Alice Roberts to front TV shows and make public appearances is helpful because they humanise the communication. It doesn't hurt that some of them are very attractive as well as intelligent, but the key to their success seems to be their personal enthusiasm for, and ability to speak clearly on, their subject; and their ability to help us understand why what they are talking about matters. 

The success of any communication between two people depends on their being empathy between them at the outset. If what we are trying to communicate is counter-intuitive then we have a difficult job to show why the idea is still plausible. If the people we are trying to communicate have an emotional investment in some other explanation, then we can improve our chances by trying to understand their values and concerns and addressing them. None of this is rocket science. And the people who are doing the communicating are scientists.

As with Buddhism the process and ideals of science are, generally speaking, admirable in the abstract. But the people involved introduce an element of imperfection. The perfect instantiation of science or Buddhism has yet to arise. Tolerance is called for. Both of religious believers and of scientists, even if we do expect more of the latter. 

~~oOo~~

Notes.

1. Speciation:
  • Boxhorn, Joseph. 'Observed Instances of Speciation.' The TalkOrigins Archive
  • Stassen, Chris. Some More Observed Speciation Events.  The TalkOrigins Archive
  • MacNeill, Allen. 'Macroevolution: Examples and Evidence.' The Evolution List. evolutionlist.blogspot.com [draws on Boxhorn; the comments on this blog post are well worth reading as well!]
  • Zimmer, Carl. A New Step In Evolution. The Loom, Science Blogs. Observations of bacteria evolving a new metabolic pathway. 

Margulis, Lynn. (1998) The Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution. Basic Books.

11 September 2015

Supernatural Monitors and the Buddha

I've previously argued that when a human group exceeds the Dunbar Number, 150, that it can no longer adequately keep track of compliance with social norms. Dunbar discovered a ratio between the size of the neocortex of the brain of mammals and the size of group they can sustain. The idea being that social animals need to know about the status and relationships of other members of their group in order to successfully navigate the social sphere. In primates one of the main ways of maintaining relationships was one-to-one grooming. However Dunbar notes that as human groups got bigger along with a bigger neocortex, there was simply not enough time for grooming with everyone. So less direct ways of achieving group cohesion developed. Dunbar has suggested for example that group singing and dancing, both known to stimulate endorphin production, helped to produce a communal sense of well being. (see Dunbar 2014)

Probably at least from the time of anatomically modern humans (ca 200,000 years before the present) our communities were seen from within as being surrounded by a halo of supernatural beings. Our own ancestors would have been chief amongst them, but this halo also contained animistic spirits of place, trees and other significant objects. Evolutionary psychologists, such as Justin L. Barrett, Stewart Guthrie, and Ara Norenzayan, have described how our minds have evolved to find supernatural entities plausible. Once these functions of our minds were in place, the emergence of the supernatural was more or less a given. Most humans, at most times and in most places believe in supernatural agents. It's a side effect of how human minds in general work. I explored why this might be so in my two part essay on why karma and rebirth seem plausible

Western
Educated
Industrialised
Rich
Democratic
In fact, not believing in the supernatural is a feature of WEIRDness, where the acronym stands for Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic. Norenzayan has shown that people from WEIRD nations are psychological outliers: "WEIRD people occupy the extreme end of [the spectrum of human psychology]... WEIRD populations are atypical of other human populations" (52-53). There suggests that there is something about being WEIRD that alters the way we process sensory information and makes the supernatural seem less plausible. But we're not quite sure what that something is yet. And being WEIRD does not guarantee that people find the supernatural implausible, because many of us WEIRDos still do find it plausible. It simply makes it more likely. 

Living in groups is a highly successful strategy for survival and evolutionary fitness. Collectively we are much stronger and smarter. In small human groups, it is very easy for each member to monitor the behaviour of the others to ensure there are no freeloaders or backsliders. We know when members are following group norms and when they are not; we know when people are pulling their weight or slacking. Thus surveillance and compliance emerges from day to day interactions rather than being a special function. Members of the group conform because they know that everyone else sees what they do. And that conformity is part of what makes a social species successful. The possibility of deliberate deception in fact only seems to arise in the primates. 

For a society below the Dunbar threshold, bad behaviour might not always be seen to arise out of individual evil intention. There is always the possibility that an individual has been affected by a mischievous or malign spirit, or by magic. Breaking norms does not always call for punishment. Indeed punishment is a poor way to try to re-establish broken trust. Punishment relies on fear to enforce norms. Trust can't be based on fear. Repairing the breach might mean identifying an environmental or a supernatural cause. This has real advantages in a small community. The individual is not victimised by the group, but reminded on their absolute reliance on the group, and is left with their connections to the group intact. The small, isolated group needs each individual as much as the individual needs the group. The problem can be resolved without polarising the group against the individual and vice versa. A common enemy brings people together.

So a breach of norms can be an opportunity to examine how well integrated the wrong-doer is into the community, or to look for environmental problems (whether natural or supernatural). This might not play out in a way that a WEIRDo can recognise. Sometimes the actions of such communities can seem to lack logic from the outside. WEIRDos may label this as "irrational" and so on. Ariel Glucklich's observations about how Tantric magic functions in modern day Varanasi showed that apparently irrational actions have their own internal logic. They can be part of a worldview in which interconnectedness is the highest value:
Magic is based on a unique type of consciousness: the awareness of the interrelatedness of all things in the world by means of simple but refined sense perception... magical actions... constitute a direct, ritual way of restoring the experience of relatedness in cases where that experience has been broken by disease, drought, war, or any number of other events. (1997: 12)
Interrelatedness is what makes a social group function. Awareness of this, awareness of the relations in the group are crucial to a well functioning group. A group member who does something selfish is not necessarily seen as wicked. They might simply be unintegrated for some reason, probably beyond their control.


Growing Larger

When the human group size crosses the Dunbar number threshold this mechanism for maintaining the group can fail. It becomes possible for members to break the norms of behaviour, to deceive the group, to freeload, for example, and for no one to notice. This is a massive problem for a group which depends, at many levels, for it's survival on everyone doing their bit. Surveillance needs to become a special function. And how does this happen when actions can be performed in private? What Norenzayan and others have argued is that supernatural agents stepped in (so to speak).

My version of this process is to imagine a group of humans living together with their halo of ancestors and nature spirits. Some effort goes into living well with the supernatural members of the community - offerings are made, ceremonies conducted and so on. Specialists emerge who are adept at communicating with the spirits. We can call these adepts shaman. The shaman serves as intermediary between the communities in the different worlds. They interpret the will of the spirits for the humans, and also can call on spirits for help. The shaman also understands how to reintegrate group members who have become disconnected. "Healing" may well simply consist of helping someone experience the fullness of their interconnectedness.

One thing about spirits is that they are already counter-intuitive. They are living things with no physical presence, no breath, and yet they interact with the physical world, which is counter-intuitive even for pre-modern groups. In this case, it is not a stretch to attribute to them other counter-intuitive abilities, such as the ability to observe actions carried out in private. Indeed in a world where invisible agents are normal, one never knows when one of them is looking over one's shoulder. So a supernatural watcher who does not have the physical limitations of a human body, can be anywhere and see anything.

So to some extent the larger groups rely on supernatural monitors. This works if people believe they are being monitored. Norenzayan recounts several experiments that seem to confirm that people who understand themselves to be observed behave better than those who think they are not observed. For a supernatural monitor the effect is only seen in believers. So groups that have supernatural monitors will be more successful because they are more coherent. Narenzayan's major thesis is that religion, with its emphasis on supernatural monitors enabled much larger groups and facilitated cooperation on a much larger scale that might otherwise have been the case. 

As with any community some members stand out. Over time certain spirits took on greater roles. Presumably certain spirits took on the role of supervisor or what Norenzayan calls a "supernatural monitor". And perhaps the supervisor was also involved in helping to mend breaches of trust and keeping people integrated. But as groups got even larger, into the range of thousands of people, the whole system became less and less personal. While we can certainly be on nodding terms with a much larger group of people, we cannot have intimate knowledge of them. In small hunter-gatherer situations strangers are rare and maybe poorly tolerated. Strangers may indeed simply be killed on sight. In a tribe of 1500 members, strangers within the group start to become routine. When there are a number of tribes in an area, out-group strangers would also be relatively common. Tolerance of strangers is required for trade. Groups would have to have developed ways of recognising strangers as part of the same group. This would involve external signs of membership such as clothing, distinctive ornaments or body modifications. And there is simply no way to feel part of such a large group in the same way that one feels part of one's immediate group. Obeying the norms of a group of 1500 is a different proposition to obeying the norms of a group of 150. On the family or clan level the approach of integration continued to function. But on the tribal level they simply could not and so an individual compliance at this larger level came down to rewards and punishments.

The supernatural agents who were now doing the surveillance, aided by those who interpreted the spirit world, became increasingly important to these larger societies. As we have noted, people are far more likely to follow group norms (to "behave themselves") if they think they are being observed. Invisible agents are always on the case. Always watching. Indeed the ability of the supernatural monitors was stretched until they saw everything. One of the main features of the "Big Gods", which Norenzayan describes, is their omniscience. They see everything and thus help to ensure compliance because members of groups with such surveillance always have the sense that they are being observed. Thus local spirits evolved into Big Gods. And Big Gods helped to ensure the coherence and success of larger and larger groups of people who had less and less in common.


Karma as Monitor

In the Ṛgveda we see two gods that are concerned with monitoring: Mitra and Varuṇa. However, these two gods fade from view. Around the time of the second urbanisation the story of supernatural monitoring takes an unusual turn. Animistic spirits are typically either animal or human in form, or sometimes a hybrid of the two.  And Indian myth certainly has plenty of these. Karma, the supernatural monitor of Upaniṣdic Brahmins, Buddhists and Jains, was neither. Karma was conceived of as a "force of nature", abstract and formless. To the best of my knowledge this change has not received any attention from scholars. Diachronic or longitudinal studies of religion over time in India seem not to be very popular. Most scholarship, even comparative studies, is synchronic or focussed on a particular time.

Different versions of karma emerged in different communities, and especially in Buddhism, within communities, but karma never takes form, never stops being abstract. Karma is always an invisible link between action and consequence. Later it is likened to the process which links a seed to a flower (bījaniyama) and to the timeliness of other natural processes (utuniyama), but such similes only tell us that Buddhists saw karma as another natural process that they did no understand. This form of supernatural monitoring has received only scant attention so far from evolutionary psychologists who all seem to be obsessed with gods. One can understand this bias to some extent, most evolutionary psychology work is being carried out by WEIRDos, some of it by theists (Barrett), and a lot of it in an atmosphere of bitter rivalry between atheists and theists (especially in the USA). Still the Indian situation must surely shed important light on the evolution process precisely because karma as supernatural monitor is not anthropomorphised.

What I wanted to highlight in this essay is that, despite the fact that karma is a force of nature and not a being, in some cases the Buddha gains access to the god-like viewpoint of a supernatural monitor. And initially at least, he does so without becoming a god or an intercessory saviour. In some accounts of the Buddha's awakening he attains the three kinds of knowledge (tevijja): the knowledge that comes from recollection of former lives (pubbenivāsānussatiñāṇa); knowledge of the death and rebirth of beings [according to their karma] (sattānaṃ cutūpapātañāṇa); and knowledge of the destruction of the āsavas (āsavānaṃ khayañāṇa). It is particularly the first and second of the vijjās that concern us here. In a worldview with a cyclic eschatology, any supernatural monitor is going to be concerned with ensuring that people get the rebirth they have earned. Karma is primarily a way of explaining how rebirth works to fulfil the Buddhist version of a just world. Wicked people go to bad destinations (duggati) where the predominant experience is misery; while good people go to a good destination (sugati) where the predominant experience is happiness. 

But Buddhism is also a hybrid system (according to my own taxonomy of afterlife types) because the really exemplary people are not reborn at all. This is necessary because even in the best of all possible rebirths—to the Brahmā realm—one lives a long, blissful life, but one still dies. And there is no greater misery than death. Thus the ultimate aim of traditionalist Buddhism is to avoid rebirth altogether, with some adding the caveat that they wish to go last amongst all beings and will help others to end rebirth first. For Brahmins, escaping from rebirth means this involves merging with Brahman, as the wave merges back into the ocean having arisen, crested and broken. Buddhists, by contrast, were cagey about the afterlife of one who was "in that state" (tathā-gata) of not being reborn. Any kind of permanence would wreak havoc on Buddhist metaphysics.

So the Buddha gains access to the god-like knowledge of a universal supernatural monitor. He gains knowledge not only of his own previous lives (pubbenivāsa), but of the death and rebirth (cuta-upapāta) of other beings. Such knowledge requires that one be aware of everything that is happening everywhere at all times, i.e. omnipresence and omniscience. These two qualities specifically denied the Buddha by the early Buddhist texts (see Kalupahana 1992: 43-4). However as time goes on the Buddha becomes more and more god-like. His limitations are gradually weeded out and his abilities expanded. For later Buddhists the Buddha is omnipresent and omniscient, and they gradually add omnipotence to the list as well. I discussed this trend in my 2014 article on karma in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics.

An almost exact translation of omni-scient in Sanskrit is sarva-jñā. This, along with it's synonym prajñāparamitā 'perfection of understanding', are both qualities attributed to the Buddha in Mahāyāna texts. And yet despite all of this, karma remains the primary way of thinking about morality. Of course karma changes with time, as I describe in my 2014 article, and while such changes undermine the role of the karma as supernatural monitor and claw back some of the power into human hands, especially in the matter of avoiding the consequences of evil actions, it is still karma that governs rebirth.

Just as the bodhisatva approaches Buddhahood (the end of rebirth) but continues to be reborn in order to stay in play with living beings; the Buddha seems to approach godhood but never quite cross the threshold. So when Amitābha promises the believer that they will be met after death and guided to a place where the Dharma is almost infinitely easy to practice, he still cannot avoid the need for individuals to awaken themselves. In Sukhāvati everything one needs to practice the Dharma is laid on in abundance, there's no sex or other possible distractions, and yet one must still learn and practice. Awakening cannot be bestowed like grace. Even in tantra, in the ritual recapitulation of Mahāvairocana's communication of awakening to Vajrasatva through mudra, mantra, and maṇḍala, it is not a matter of a deity transforming the sādhaka, it is a matter of the individual and cosmic wills coming together to transform each other. A relationship of give and take or kaji as the Japanese call adhiṣṭhāna


Conclusion

A full account of karma in evolutionary terms seems a long way off simply because it does not seem to interest either the Evolutionary or the Buddhist research communities. Evolutionary study of religion is focussed on theism since this is the major issue for WEIRDos. In any case it would be a complex undertaking because karma is complex at any given time, across sects, and changes considerably over time. A complete chronological account of karma would be a good first step towards a complete picture. But for some reason such fundamental research has, to the best of my knowledge, yet to be undertaken. Of course there are many partial studies of karma in specific circumstance, and very many which seek to understand karma in modernist terms, but there is nothing like, say, the major studies of dharma theory (e.g. Ronkin 2005) or the khandhas (Hamilton 2000). I've attempted to trace one major change in karma in my 2014 article and other facets of karma in essays here on my blog, but there are no major studies of karma as far as I know.

One of the problems we face with Buddhist studies is that cracks get plastered over. Even academics seem to aim at producing normative accounts of Buddhist doctrines, to get at the putative underlying unity of the texts, rather critiquing the ideas in Buddhist accounts. There is no tradition of critiquing Buddhism, except in theist terms. Worse, I now see the idea of underlying unity as a myth rather than a reality. Taking that myth too literally is a major impediment to understanding the development of Buddhism. The doctrine of karma is one of the weaknesses, because it fundamentally contradicts and is contracted by the doctrine of dependent arising. Here is another potential crack: how does one gain a godlike perspective, omniscient and omnipresent, on a process like karma? Given how karma works, how is any such perspective possible? The idea is deeply self-contradictory.

That said, this fact that the Buddha gains access to the god-like perspective of a supernatural monitor is a fascinating facet of Indian and Buddhist metaphysics. It tells us that despite the abstract conception of karma, that a godlike perspective is still possible. Buddhists believed (and in some cases still believe) that there is a view point in the universe which sees everything and knows everything and it is in theory possible to attain this view point. This perspective, initially at least, conveys knowledge, but not the power to change the situation. For early Buddhists, changing the situation could only come from practising the practices. Though of course the Buddha's personal power increases. In the later version of the Samaññaphala Sutta simply meeting the Buddha and hearing a Dharma talk rescues the murderous King Ajātasattu from his fate of rebirth in Hell. This whole change in the dynamic of karma in a world of the increasing soteriological power of the Buddha requires further study.

As Buddhism continues to be assimilated into WEIRD cultures it will inevitably change. History shows that Buddhism adapts to suit the needs of the time and place that Buddhists live in. In WEIRD places our problems are distinct from those of Iron Age or Medieval India or Asia. Supernatural explanations seem less plausible and satisfying to an increasing number of people who are none-the-less attracted to Buddhism, precisely because Buddhists promote Buddhism with realist rhetoric (we can teach you about the nature of reality). Redefining Buddhism without the supernatural elements is an ongoing process. Letting go of the accretions that make us think we understand "reality" may take even longer. I think we are generations away from a workable demystified Buddhism that can stand alone without constant reference to tradition. I think that evolutionary theory will play a major role in creating this new form of Buddhism. It is by far the most important single idea to emerge from WEIRD culture in terms of how we understand ourselves. 

~~oOo~~


Bibliography

Attwood, Jayarava. (2014) Escaping the Inescapable: Changes in Buddhist Karma. Journal of Buddhist Ethics 21: 503-535.

Barrett, Justin L. (2004) Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Altamira Press.

Dunbar, Robin. (2014) Human Evolution: A Pelican Introduction. Pelican.

Glucklich, Ariel. (1997) The End of Magic. New York, Oxford University Press.

Guthrie, S. (1993). Faces in the clouds. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hamilton, Sue. (2000) Early Buddhism: A New Approach. London: Routledge.

Norenzayan, Ara. (2013) Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict. Princeton University Press.

Ronkin, Noa. (2005) Early Buddhist Metaphysics. Routledge.


Note. A few minutes after clicking the "publish" button on this essay I noted another blog: Subliminal religious prompts might not make people nicer after all, which contradicts the findings that Norenzayan relies heavily on in his account of religion. 

04 September 2015

The Trackless One?

In two well known verses from the Buddhavaggo of the Dhammapada, the Buddha is referred to as apada. Many translations read apada "the trackless one". The great philologist of Middle-Indic, K. R. Norman, translates "leaving no track, by what track will you lead him?" The translation of these verse has long puzzled me. Why would one who "leaves no track" be difficult (or impossible) to lead somewhere? And isn't the image messed up? A track can lead somewhere, but do we lead someone by a track? What about the translation "trackless". What could this possible mean? So when someone wrote to me recently with a question about these verses, I spent some time working on the verses and I think I came to a better understanding of apada. The two verses in Pāḷi read:
yassa jitaṃ nāvajīyati jitaṃ yassa no yāti koci loke
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |179|
yassa jālinī visattikā taṇhā n'atthi kuhiñci netave
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |180|
The key word is pada. It is a tricky word with many meanings. It literally means "foot" and comes from the Proto-Indo-European *ped- "foot". Some cognates, all meaning "foot" include Greek pod; Latin ped; Proto-Germanic *fot; and English foot. In Pāli, living creatures are characterised as sattā apadā vā dvipadā vā catuppadā vā bahuppadā  "beings with no feet, with two feet, with four feet or with many feet" or "footless, bipeds, quadrupeds, and creepy-crawlies" (SN v.41, AN ii.34).

In Sanskrit and Pāḷi pada can, by association, also mean "foot print". For example, in the Cūḷahatthipadopama Sutta (MN 27) an elephant's foot print (hatthipada) is used a metaphor for the experience of the stages of liberation - a tathāgatapada "a footprint of the Tathāgata" or a sign by which one can know the Tathāgata. The other types of sign that elephants leave help to fill out the image: uccā nisevita "a high-up scratching place" and dantehi ārañjitāni "furrows made by tusks". In the simile of the text one must see the foot that made the footprints, in order to fully comprehend the elephant.

Abstractly the image of the footprint as a sign of the passing animal can become "a sign" more generally. This led to the sense of pada as a "word" (a linguistic sign). Sometimes pada can mean "a track" as in a series of footprints left behind by an animal's feet or the track created by many passing feet. Metaphorically, a verse has "feet" of a fixed number of syllables: siloka meter has four feet of eight syllables for example. So when we see this word pada in a text, we always have to pause to carefully consider what sense is intended. Ironically, one of the more difficult words to translate is dhammapada. Partly because pada here is singular and the text is an anthology of verses. Does pada here mean, 'foot', 'sign', 'word', or 'track'? 

The majority of translators have opted to translate pada/apada in these Dhammapada verses with some variation on "track" and "trackless". One leaves a track as one goes. One follows a track; one follows where the track leads. The verb in these verse is √nī 'lead'. We have the English idiom of a track "leading somewhere". So "track/trackless" may fit the context. However, why would one who leaves no track be difficult to lead? What is the logic of this image? By taking the two verses together I first argue that pada must mean something like "sign" here, because it is strongly implied by the verses. However, as I dig deeper into the word apada and how it is used, I uncover another more fundamental metaphor which seems to inform the passage. 


Translation


yassa jitaṃ nāvajīyati |179a|
What he has won cannot be lost
Jita is the past tense of jayati 'he wins, he conquers' < √. It can mean that which was conquered (yad jitaṃ), or "it was conquered by him" (tena jitaṃ), the "one who has conquered" (jito), or simply "a victory". It's combined here with avajīyati the passive of ava√jī 'diminished, lost, undone.' So the sense of the sentence is that what has been won by him, cannot be lost. His transformation cannot be undone. His victory cannot be diminished

jitaṃ yassa no yāti koci loke |179b|
What he has won does not go anywhere in the world
Metrically jitaṃ seems to belong with 179a, but semantically it is part of this sentence (179b). Word order is much less important in Pāḷi, especially in verse, so yassa jitaṃ or jitaṃ yassa both mean the same thing: "his victory, what he has won". And it "does not go (no yāti) anywhere (koci) in the world (loke)." This sentence is a bit esoteric. But consider it in the light of the Rohitassa Sutta (S 2.26, PTS S i.61; also A 4.45, PTS A ii.47), in which the eponymous young deva asks the Buddha:
yatha nu kho bhante na jāyati na jīyati na mīyati na cavati na upapajjati, sakkā nu kho so, bhante, gamanena lokassa anto ñātuṃ vā daṭṭhum vā pāpuṇituṃ vā ti?
Is there a way to know, or see, or to reach, the end of the world – where there is no birth, no ageing, no death; no dying and being reborn – by travelling?
The answer is that one cannot reach the goal by physically travelling. He also says:
na kho panāhaṃ, āvuso, appatvā lokassa antaṃ dukkhassa antakiriyaṃ vadāmi. Api ca khvāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññapemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadanti. (S i.62)
However, friend, I say there is no making an end of disappointment, without reaching the end of the world. And, friend, it is right here in this arm-span measure of body endowed with perception and cognition that I declare the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the way leading to the cessation of the world.
These passages help to define what we mean by 'the world'. As Bodhi says, 
"The world with which the Buddha’s teaching is principally concerned is ‘the world of experience,’ and even the objective world is of interest only to the extent that it serves as that necessary external condition for experience" (Bodhi 2000: 394, n.182).
So "the world" referred to in the verse is most likely the world of experience, the world contained in the body endowed with mental faculties, the end of which can be reached without travelling. And perhaps this is why the tathāgata's victory does not go anywhere in the world?

taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ |179c|
Awakened, with limitless perception, signless
Anantagocaram is also a compound meaning one whose sphere or field of sense perception (gocara - literally 'pasture' or the 'range of a cow') is without ends (an-anta). Compare Dhp 22 where the ones who enjoy sobriety with respect to the senses (appamāde pamodanti) are ariyānaṃ gocare ratā "those who delight in the range of the nobles (i.e. the enlightened)." 
We've already introduced the words pada and apada, and until we have translated 180 we just need to say that apadaṃ is something predicated of the Buddha. Metrically apadam is part of 179d, but syntactically goes with buddhaṃ.

kena padena nessatha? |179d|
By what sign will you lead him?
The verb is neti 'to lead', from √. The form nessatha is the second person plural future tense, "you (plural) will lead". The future can also be used to convey a hypothetical proposition. However, while 'lead' is the primary meaning and goes well with pada as "track", we need to consider that √has a range of other meanings. It can also mean 'takes, takes away, especially to take away in marriage, carries off.' In Sanskrit the verb can also mean 'to bring to subjection, subdue.' So we must consider that the sentence could read: "By what pada could you take him away?" or "By what pada could you subdue him?" And in each case "you" plural. 
We'll take 180a and b together, and 180cd is the same as 179cd.

yassa jālinī visattikā taṇhā n'atthi kuhiñci netave |180ab|
He has no lust, clinging, or craving to lead [him] anywhere.
Now the verb here is also from √., here a rare form of the infinitive 'to lead'. Although the sentence is phrased in the negative (n'atthi "there is not") let's first consider it in the positive. If we ignore the negative particle na for a minute the sentence would say that he is led by desire for sense experience, i.e. lust (jālinī), clinging (visattikā) or craving (taṇhā). Such a person would be padaṃ, which must mean they are characterised by a sign. And that sign is craving itself. By contrast, the Buddha is apadaṃ and thus he has no craving to lead him anywhere. Padaṃ and craving play the same role in the sentence. Ergo what this verse means by padaṃ is craving. It's a little odd, but not as odd as the standard translations. 

Our finished translation is:
What he has won cannot be lost,
What he has won does not go anywhere in the world.
That awakened one, with limitless perception, who is himself signless,
By what sign will you lead him? (179) 
He has no lust, clinging, or craving,
To lead him anywhere.
That awakened one, with limitless perception, who is himself signless,
By what sign will you lead him? (180)
~o~

Apadaṃ

As already mentioned, apada is used in it's most obvious sense of "without a foot" in many places. Snakes are the most obvious example of apada. The form apadaṃ only occurs in a very few suttas. For example in the Nivāpa Sutta (MN 25) we find out that a bhikkhu in the state of first jhāna cannot be followed by Māra or his retinue. I'm going to give Ñānamoḷi & Bodhi's (Ñ&B) translation to begin with.
Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, bhikkhu andhamakāsi māraṃ, apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ adassanaṃ gato pāpimato. (MN i.159)
This bhikkhu is said to have blindfold Māra, to have become invisible to the Evil One by depriving Māra's eye of its opportunity. (Ñ&B 2001: 250-1)
The passage is repeated at AN iv.434. Now on face value this translation is incomprehensible, because there is no word that means "opportunity". "To have become invisible to the Evil One" must translate adassanaṃ gato pāpimato.  So "by depriving Māra's eye of it's opportunity" therefore translates apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ. Mara's eye is māracakkhuṃ; vadhitvā is a gerund meaning 'having stuck, having killed' which must therefore correspond to Ñ&B's "depriving" (translating gerunds as English present participles is fine). So here apadaṃ must correspond to "of its opportunity", though it's not clear how this could work.

In these cases we usually suspect that the translators have bowed to Buddhaghosa, so the next step in following this thread is to look at the commentary. The corresponding passage in the Papañcasūdani is:
"Apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhun" ti teneva pariyāyena yathā mārassa cakkhu apadaṃ hoti nippadaṃ, appatiṭṭhaṃ, nirārammaṇaṃ, evaṃ vadhitvāti attho.  (MA 2.163)
Apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhun is a way of saying (pariyāya) that the eye of Māra is without a sign, signless, unsupported, without any basis, this is what "destroying" means.
Having pondered this for a time, I don't think it makes any more sense that the sutta passage it is commenting on. The commentary on AN iv.434 (AA 4.201) is shorter but similar:
"Apadaṃ vadhitvā"ti nippadaṃ niravasesaṃ vadhitvā.
Apadaṃ vadhitvā [means] having destroyed [Māra's eyes] completely, signlessly.  (Bodhi 2012: 1832, n.1940)
In his comparative study of the Majjhima Nikāya and Madhyamāgama, Anālayo (2011) notes another similar passage in AN 9.39. Here a monk who has attained the 8 vimokkhas (the four rūpa jhānas and four arupa āyatanas) is:
antamakāsi māraṃ, apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ, adassanaṃ  gato pāpimato
One who has blinded Māra, put out Māra's eyes without a trace, and gone beyond the sight of the Evil One. (Bodhi 2012: 1306)
Where antamakasi is almost certainly meant to be andhamakāsi "blinded" and is translated accordingly (cf. Bodhi 2012: 1831, n.1939). So in fact the Ñ&B translation is not based on the commentary this time, and Bodhi has opted for a completely different translation in his solo work (which is quite unusual). Here Bodhi translates apadaṃ as "without a trace" which implies completeness. I'm not convinced that this is a possible connotation of apada however. It seems more likely that having destroyed Māra's eye, he becomes apada he cannot see a sign.

It's quite unusual for the patient of the gerund to come after the gerund in prose. The two phrases apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ and adassanaṃ gato pāpimato both have 10 syllables so may have originally come from verse, though I cannot locate this verse. 

This is a very difficult idiom to understand. The idea that it is explained by "tracks" or "leaving  tracks" seems a bit far-fetched. There are three apparently unrelated uses:

  1. When as animal has no feet, it is apada
  2. When the Buddha is without craving he is apada
  3. When Māra is without sight, blinded, he is also apada

I think all three are in fact connected by an obscure metaphor which relies not on the "track" sense of pada, but on "foot". The arising of craving is what propels people towards the object of desire. If craving is the "foot" that propels people around, then the Buddha is "footless". Remember also that in Dhp 179b jitaṃ yassa no yāti koci loke "What he has won does not go anywhere in the world." It does not go anywhere (no yāti koci) because it cannot go, because the Buddha's victory (jita) has deprived it of propulsion, in this metaphor it is now apada or footless. MN 25 asks Kathañca, bhikkhave, agati mārassa ca māraparisāya ca? "Where is it that Māra and his retinue are unable to go?" Māra cannot go where he cannot see. By blinding him we render him "footless", and cannot go anywhere.

With this in mind, we can also reconsider the translation of 179c in which the Buddha is described as anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ. I followed the herd here in translating anantagocara as 'limitless perception', but I noted that gocara literally means  'range of a cow' from cara 'walking' and go 'cow'. But what's interesting here is the juxtaposition of the 'range of a cow' being limitless and a being who is footless. When Māra is footless he cannot go anywhere. When the Buddha is footless he can go anywhere. Māra represents the world "out there", the Buddha represents the world "in here", in this arm-span length of body. Being footless in the physical world is crippling. Being footless in the sense of without craving to propel us into motion opens up the "inner" world completely. Mental "feet" like craving and hatred tend to propel us away from present experience, to lead us outwards towards the object of desire, or away from the object of aversion. Cut off those feet and we stay immersed in experience.

We can also point to another reading of 179cd/180cd
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |179|
I suggested above that apadaṃ should be read as part of pada c. But in fact we could read it as part of pada d.
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |179|
The range of that awakened one is limitless
By what footpath could you lead the footless?
I think this is a superior reading. It nicely exploits the ambiguity of pada in a play on words. We get something of the flavour of it by using "footpath" to juxtapose with "footless".

Conclusion


Having worked through the translation we are now in a position to deal with the question of what a "trackless one" is. He is, shall we say, a misunderstanding. However K. R. Norman is not easily mislead, so why does "trackless one" seem like a good translations here? Pada is a complex word and often difficult to translate. There isn't really a wholly satisfactory translation of "dhammapada."  When presented with an image using pada we tend to think of the figurative uses. We are so used to taking it abstractly or figuratively that we only translate pada as "foot" only when the situation demands it. I think the combination of the word pada and the verb √ are quite persuasive. We have a combination of tracks and leading, and the link between certain beings, the Buddha, and Māra all being apada is very obscure. 

On the other hand taking Dhp 179 and 180 together it's more obvious, though still fairly obscure, that apada refers to the Buddha's lack of craving, but we do not know why it does. One of K R Norman's observations about the philologer is that they don't simply say what a text means, they say why it means that. So the job is only half complete. The key insight emerges out of following the thread a little further and looking at the handful of other times that the word apada is used. It is only used to describe: an animal without feet; the Buddha without craving; and Māra without sight. What the last two have in common is that they do not "go" anywhere. The footless animal, i.e. a snake, ought not to go anywhere, but somehow does. So the link is locomotion. We can extend the comparison between the snake and the Buddha. Just as a snake is able to move about without any feet, the Buddha relates to other beings without any craving, and thus without creating any karma that must ripen. Māra on the other hand is crippled when made footless/blind.

Now one of the traps for translators is to slavishly translate a word with the same English word each time it occurs. As in all languages, Pāḷi words have denotations and connotations. And just as in English a Pāḷi may have multiple denotations and multiple connotations. People with very orderly minds like to think that language should restrict one word to one meaning so as to avoid ambiguity. But in practice such an ideal language has probably never existed. Language always involves ambiguity. And just as well since almost all comedy depends on it, and communal laughter is an important evolutionary adaptation to living in large groups; and a good deal of poetry also depends on it. And in the case of these verses, I think that "path" is probably the best translation of padaṃ in 179d and 180d. This suggests that the poet was aware of the all the ambiguity and was exploiting it for effect. And in fact if someone is footless (and in this imagery unable to physically go anywhere) then where could you lead them? Political correctness had no place in the worldview of the people who composed and preserved these verses.

My final translation, then is:
What he has won cannot be lost,
What he has won does not go anywhere in the world.
The range of that awakened one is limitless
By what footpath could you lead the footless? (179)
He has no lust, clinging, or craving,
To lead him anywhere.
The range of that awakened one is limitless
By what footpath could you lead the footless? (180)
Pāḷi texts are seldom purposefully esoteric. On the whole we can take the suttas on face value. Of course some of the metaphors have become reified or are obscure to us, but the feeling is that the author was not tying to misdirect us, they were trying to communicate in a fairly direct manner. Sometimes verses in the Dhammapada that use obscure metaphors can seem as though they are esoteric. Considering the huge popularity of the text, it is surprisingly difficult at times. It's a text to be quite wary of, especially in translation. Even the best translations sometimes fail to plumb the depths of the Dhammapada.

~~oOo~~

Bibliography

Anālayo (2011) A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya. Vol. 1 (Introduction, Studies of Discourses 1 to 90). Dharma Drum.

Bodhi (2012) The Numerical Discourses. Wisdom.

Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi. (2001) The Middle Length Discourses. Wisdom.

Norman, K. R. (2000) The Word of the Doctrine (Dhammapada). Pali Text Society.
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