Monday, June 22, 2009

You can’t beat a bit of bully

Just when you think you have seen every example of delusional bull-shit going something comes along that simply trumps everything else. Take this story from Kansas and the Wichita Eagle it concerns a young man called Chase Kear who apparently had a bad accident whilst pole vaulting, unfortunate certainly, but take a look at what happened next and then think about "to what" would you attribute the recovery of this person.

  1. Chase suffers a serious brain trauma
  2. Bystanders call for medical help on their cell phones
  3. Doctors arrive minutes later in a helicopter
  4. Doctors administer emergency care
  5. Helicopter arrives in hospital
  6. Surgeons remove part of his skill to reduce brain swelling
  7. Kear is treated with anti-biotic drugs to prevent infection
  8. Swelling reduces, doctors restore Kear's skull
  9. Kear survives and undergoes rehabilitation treatment

Now I would expect any commentary about these events from family or friends to pay tribute to the skill and training of the doctors, surgeons and nurses involved, perhaps a nod in the direction of the helicopter pilot or maybe a thank you to the people who alerted them to the accident in the first place. Oh no my friends, we are dealing with Catholics here, this young man clearly survived because a "miracle" occurred, whilst all this 21st century science was going on a bunch of people sat around doing nothing, with their hands clasped, mumbling things to an invisible man in the sky so that he would intervene and do undetectable things; clearly this played the pivotal part in a successful outcome, in fact this is such a no brainer apparently that the Vatican itself has sent a "man" to investigate this "miracle".

For myself, earlier I turned cold water into hot tea and in a few seconds I shall be pressing a button and affecting electrons thousands of miles away; I await the men in red with eager anticipation.


Oranjepan said...

I like this.

Apparently there was no lexical distinction between 'wine' and 'cordial' at the time 'water was turned into wine', so who measured the alcohol content I don't know.

'Miracles' do bear further investigation and what we discover gives an interesting insight into the time.

Each of the aspostles can be seen in an alternative light who went around promoting various techinal and technological advances in their fields, be it medicine, fishing etc.

So strip away the mists of mysticism and it's quite possible to value ancient religious stories as narratives of social revolution which have plenty to teach us today.

During the post-imperial period and all the way up to their dissolution, monasteries were the industrial and intellectual research hubs of their day. This gave them political influence which gradually weakened until the national military leaders were successfully able to challenge them for preeminence.

How the internal balance of powers changed and lead different institutions to take different directions has resulted in a massive shift in their relevance to ordinary people's lives. The same risk faces all institutions - if the public perception of corrupt practices and hollow ritual completely replaces practical benefits for the likes of you and me then our democratic institutions are equally capable of falling from grace too.

But ultimately I think this post is a media story giving us a singular first-hand perspective without context, not about ideas at all!

Steve Borthwick said...

Thanks for your post OP, insightful as ever.

I admit this was penned a little tongue in cheek, I agree with you it's probably largely "media" spin rather than word of mouth, but hopefully the underlying sentiment of the story is evident.

Miracles do tell us a lot IMO, they are reflections of our innermost (raw) desires, how our evolved ape brains would really like the world to be, childish notions, wish thinking. What would religion be without them or even the possibility of them?, much diminished I would wager.

Of course rational observers would see that they are (like God) utterly unfalisifiable, and because of this they seem destined to stick around regardless of the advances we make as a species; a shame and a waste of energy IMO but probably inevitable.

Oranjepan said...

Sorry, I'm on a serious trip this morning.

Wasn't it a Dawkins analogy which asked how we would react if aliens came to earth and demonstrated teleportation etc?

Assuming it works then it is just advanced science - ie advanced beyond our own understanding. But in our wonderment we would in all probability describe it as 'miraculous'.

I know a Spanish girl called 'Milagros' - which I think is a rather wonderful traditional Spanish name, meaning miracles (she is rather wonderful too, but that's another story). Apparently her parents (who were quite religious) were desperate for a child and felt it appropriate when they concieved. I don't know about you, but I think that's touching even considering any religious overtones.

What would religion be without 'miracles'? You might as well ask what science would be without the Eureka moment which explains them!

Treating glaucoma and relocating ankles among people in deprived rural outposts on the edge of civilisation sounds a lot more mundane and less 'miraculous' than making the blind see again or making the lame walk, but it has a similar effect on the patient!

Elizabeth said...

Praise be to the Lord for miracles like these.

Steve Borthwick said...

OP, I think it was Arthur C Clarke who first coined the phrase "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" or something like that.

Surely we all look at things all the time that we don't fully understand, for example, probably the most profound moment in any person's life is to witness their own child being born, I know when I looked at mine I was filled with wonder and awe (and fear!) but I was also aware of the science and appreciative of the work of the generations of doctors and medical practitioners that have made the child birth process now 99.9% safe as opposed to only 40% safe 200 years ago. I would suggest that a religious or perhaps simply “spiritual” person would have said something like, “the birth was a miracle" etc. However I would contend that this is simply a case of people using the word to describe wonder and awe. At such a moment nothing in my brain would be any different from that other person, if you could do a CT scan you would see the same pleasure centres light up and be able to detect the same endorphins released into my bloodstream. I think this would be similar to your Spanish friend, I agree it’s nice, an expression of emotion, a natural human response you could say, and the rest is just culture and linguistics.

Then we have the miracles of the ignorant, which I think is what you are describing in part and illustrated in this story, i.e. “I simply can’t understand this therefore it must be supernatural”, I don’t think a rational person would ever think that, even if presented with something completely inexplicable. This is a double whammy; it’s cultural combined with irrationality. There is a difference I think, the irrational “miracle” perhaps has its roots in our evolutionary need to “explain” things when we simply didn’t know, that adaptation has proven to be a huge advantage when we got it right (like predicting animal behaviour) but in this situation is misfiring badly.

Oranjepan said...

That's pretty good - I'll go with that.