This is a well laid out, calm and informative comment that responded to a response from Aviv Bershadsky about my posting What Do Scientologists Believe about COVID-19? I also note she has some interesting thoughts about “othering” at the end which are not directed to Aviv but I kept them because I think her views on things are worth looking at.
I felt it was valuable and too important to be lost as a comment to an older post.
I asked the author for permission to print it and for a little information about her.
Her name is Valerie Feria-Isacks and this is the short bio she sent me:
Valerie is a musician, educator, computer coder, emerging medical anthropologist studying the effects of art based therapy on traumatized youth, Ex Sea Org member, and a former officer of the National Association of Student Anthropologists a section of the American Anthropological Association.
Question from Aviv: “I have a question. Except of studying the spirit in the ways you mentioned, what do scientists do currently to help a spirit?”
For this there’s a bit of some “step 0’s” as it were:
The first would be how Non-scientologists, especially scientists define belief vs. fact; and how it differs from Scientology/ist use of those terms.
I’m also using the term “Scientologists” here to include independents, other “squirrel”-types, and those in “corporate scientology.” With the caveat that like Mike Rinder I think that “Squirrels” and/or “Indies” for lack of a better term aren’t any more variant/odd philosophically to mainstream society than say anyone practicing a rarer spirituality, ex. Odinism.
Please don’t take this as an insult, it’s not intended as such and unfortunately until there’s a term for both people who Miscavige would call “squirrels” but follow Hubbard’s teachings + those in his “corporate scientology” group as a bigger group (sort of like Catholics +Protestants+Orthodox are all together called Christians) then we kind of have no choice but to use the term “Scientologists” for all of you. Even if we really only take major issue with Miscavige’s people and the related abuses.
The thing with “religious schisms” (the term which Historians call what you’re going through) are tough and a lot of things have no names until later as people create them. I might suggest “Hubbardist’s” since you all follow his teachings in your own ways, but it’s also not my place as someone who no longer follows them in any way shape or form to decide the term. Good luck with that …
Back to the OG topic’s step O’s.
So from a scientific point of view, though again most non-scientologist’s agree:
A “Belief” is something that is true for an individual or group, but either cannot be proved historically/scientifically or through similar academic means; and is often derived from a spiritual construct and/or non-independently verified anecdotal experiences.
To paraphrase a Hubbard quote “if it’s true for you it’s true” and to science and in general that type of truth is a considered a “belief.”
For example, with auditing we cannot also say strap a person experiencing it to an EEG/MRI/etc. to see what’s going on with their brainwaves. I mean we could do some of this technologically, but doubt a single auditor would allow what say Buddhist monks/advanced practitioners allowed here https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-12661646. Though someone could do before/after/baseline. There have been a few studies on auditing as a practice and there’s no conclusive evidence of engrams as Hubbard defines them. This is not the same as conclusive evidence they don’t exist either.
Ergo = belief.
However it’s also interesting to note that Richard Semon’s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Semon) definition of the word and similar concept pre-dates Hubbard’s by many years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engram_%28neuropsychology%29) though at least it’s testable & potentially falsifiable. As an aside increasing evidence from genetic theory as well as advances in neuroimaging (various machines that can see brain activity + structure) make the theory less likely.
Which leads me to my next point, even if there is a “spirit” this is also considered a belief due to its non-Falsifiability/non-testability (cannot conclusively be proven true or false). Excerpt from https://think.taylorandfrancis.com/aa-ghosts-and-spirits/ a publication in my field.
“For anthropologists, the reality of ghosts and spirits is in the cultural realm; if people grow up hearing tales of malevolent ghosts, they are likely to “see” and feel the presence of ghosts around them. These spirits are real because they affect people’s thought and behavior. ”
The existence of being a spirit, having a spirit or their being spirits isn’t provable in the scientific sense and is thus a belief.
In contrast a “fact” is true regardless of if a person/group believes it or not. Like gravity or the salinity of certain oceans or the earth being round. Did you know there are still people who believe the earth’s flat? Their belief doesn’t make the world less round though.
The second step O is the concept here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria
This means scientists ‘as scientists’ only really study what people believe, why they believe it, a belief’s or it’s related practices measurable effects, how that belief evolved, such like. Also, even social scientists who do engage in the practice of “participant observation” are engaging in those spiritual practices to understand the process of a particular ritual (ex. Confession) in order to feel the effects themselves vs. believing a belief themselves. They might or might not belief the belief(s) behind the process, it matters not.
Again as seen here https://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/ many scientists don’t have any religious/spiritual beliefs or practices themselves. Those who don’t have them fall into two groups “strict materialists”: those who “believe” everything has a material explanation) and “non-materialists”: those with who believe in some spiritual concepts but generally don’t believe in God(s/esses) or believe such beings and/or religion has very little effect or importance on overall quality of life.
In the end scientists, like indeed most people, engage in or with whatever spirit or spirits, as part of themselves or others might exist within the context of whatever faith they have. Scientist learn to bifurcate (split) what they belief as “faith X” from what they know as scientists.
Scientists ‘as scientists’ don’t engage thusly, they’re looking for the effects – positive, negative or placebo or nocebo (https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMra1907805) etc.
Other related references:
As a Taoist I do *believe* many things (myself included) have a spiritual component.
However as a Scientist I *know* that this belief is not a testable hypothesis and therefore not “fact,” nor scientific.
Hopefully this clarifies things. Please feel free to dig into some basic science texts, or shows like @StarTalkRadio or those on @Discovery should be a good gradient.
Wynski you’re right in that what Aviv is proposing isn’t science, but you’re dead wrong in your approach. My fellow social scientist’s term this “othering” and it does the exact opposite of the intention of science as a body as well the general tone of this site.
Science is a method of studying and engaging in the world; it’s primary uses are to increase understanding through discovery of how things work, create new things, enlighten and educate.
Trying to make people feel shitty because they don’t know/understand something is antithetical to that.