This html-coded online version of the Wombat Final 15/5/06 9:12 AM -- wombatbook.pdf, was prepared by Darlene Sartore with some additions, clarifications, minor adaptations and color texting. This version is for use only by course presenters certified by An Ever Better World Internet Academy. Permission granted from author on March 5, 2007.
‘I am aware when even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition.’ -– Mark Twain, American thinker and humorist
One question that has arisen from time to time during my career has been this: ‘How can an Australian go to the US and teach Americans how to sell?’ Interestingly, this is asked more often in Australia than anywhere else. When I first went to the US – the Land of the Salesman – I went to learn, not to teach. But I was surprised by what I found – even though Australia might be a small country, it has a lot to offer our big cousins in the US and Europe and our good neighbours in China and South East Asia.
The City of Melbourne is home of the Melbourne Cup where the mini-skirt was invented. It’s the home of Victoria Bitter and the HQ of the Aussie Rules football code. It is sometimes described as the Intellectual Capital of Australia. The first line of the Australian national song, ‘Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free’ was beamed around the world, many times, during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Australia is even called the ‘Lucky Country’ because it is a young nation and its citizens enjoy a freedom that is unprecedented. This is something we should not take for granted.
Freedom of Choice
In Melbourne, as in other parts of Australia, there are over 270 distinct religious groups. This is evidence of the creativity, tolerance and goodwill of our nation. In part, it is made possible by Section 116 of the Australian Constitution which states that all religions are equal under the Law of Australia. In Australia no single religion can ever be the ‘one true religion’. We share the long evolution of the Aboriginal Dreaming, the wisdom gained from the suffering of Judaism, the warmth of the brotherhood of Islam, the charity of the Christians with their love of God and fellow humans beings, the peace and compassion of Buddhism, the pluralism of the Hindus, the Taoist respect of nature, the emphasis on relationships and manners of Confucianism, the social justice of Marxism, the humanist freedom of the liberals, the holistic approach of the Africans, the Sikhs with their humour and sincerity and, a growing number of Australians – more than 25 per cent – who are free to state that they practise no religion at all.
These religious systems are a priceless part of our vast treasure of intellectual capital. All these diverse religious values have thrived and are compatible in an environment of mutual respect and freedom. As a young country, we have learned from the bitter experience of others. We have seen that it is only when one religion seeks to impose its authority and righteousness over another that we can expect the brutality and the terror of religious wars and crusades, the horror of fatwahs and inquisitions, and the fury of the persecutions that follow.
So what then is the quintessential benefit of Section 116? It is, simply, freedom of choice. That means freedom for you to choose, not for someone else to choose for you.
But Australians are not blind. As with many nations, we have seen the practice fall short of the ideal. Australia can reflect on its own sorry history of discrimination and persecutions – the floggings of Irish convicts, the ‘pig tailing’ of the Chinese, the theft of Aboriginal children, the schism of the Labour movement, the treatment of Vietnam veterans, and the White Australia Policy. Still, the ideal of Freedom of Religion is quintessentially Australian and it is one that I personally have always supported.
This freedom also means we are free to explore, discuss and even challenge those ancient ideas that were exported to Australia from Europe, Asia and other cultures. To do this we use the tools of science. Why? What is it that makes science so unique? What is it that separates the scientific approach to matters from other non-scientific approaches?
The answer is: testing and measuring.
The Balance of Evidence
It’s only by putting a theory up against testing and measuring that we can move it from science fiction towards science fact. I say towards, because we can never actually prove anything in science in an absolute sense.
What we can say is that after testing and measurement of the evidence, the balance of evidence as it now stands would indicate that such-and-such a theory seems valid. It’s a ‘more likely truth’. This always gets updated at a later stage by other scientists as testing and measuring procedures improve and as new theories, new ‘more likely truths’, are put forward.
The absence of testing and measuring is: faith. When we are in a non-scientific mode we can use faith as a way of coming to a point-of-view. There are many things in human culture that don’t lend themselves very well to testing and measuring and some people still derive value from believing in them.
In the metaphysical marketplace there exists a myriad of myths and legends, folklore, superstitions and fortune telling, plus a rich collection of supernatural heroes and beliefs. These have provided a great deal of interest to millions of people even though (maybe because) many of these areas elude any form of objective testing or measurement.
For example, no-one has ever been able to test or measure the existence of ‘guardian angels’. So this is an unscientific belief that can be simply accepted on faith if one chooses to do so. Some people take comfort in the idea of having a guardian angel and it may be a benefit to them. Others find the concept unwelcome. The thought of being stalked 24/7 by a spiritual Peeping Tom may seem an infringement on one’s personal liberty!
It was recently estimated by a religious leader that around 30 per cent of the world’s population derive value and comfort from religious beliefs of one kind or another. Most of these believers were born into major world religions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism. In addition, there is a vast array of smaller religions, cults and belief systems which testify to the richness and diversity of human imagination. These belief systems require believers to take a leap of faith and to believe in things that we may not be able to test or measure. These beliefs fall outside the scientific method. This doesn’t necessarily mean their claims are not true or didn’t happen, it simply means that the balance of evidence is so slim that we have no way of knowing whether they are true and so, if we accept them, we do so by taking a leap of faith. Many people are quite able to take such a leap of faith while others may have had a set of beliefs culturally programmed into their brain when they were young.
To be considered scientifically valid, a proposition must be able to be tested or measured independently. It is not enough to simply measure the number of people who believe it. Just because a million people believe the earth is flat is not enough to make it flat. If a million becomes ten million the earth will still not lose its third dimension.
Memes, Replicators and Ideaviruses
Memes are idea viruses – ideas that self-replicate.
Memes are the only other replicator, besides genes, yet discovered by science. The word meme is pronounced like ‘theme’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a gene as ‘a unit of heredity . . . that determines a particular characteristic of an individual’ and a meme as ‘a self-replicating element of culture, passed on by imitation’. To that definition should also be added the meaning of the verb:
meme v to infect with a meme
(The CEO memed his employees with a personal email.)
Memes are stored in our brains and passed on by imitation.
For example, Richard Dawkins points to ‘tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches’. He also considers religions to be among the most powerful of these mind viruses.
We may simply believe things because we have been memed. We may think we know things because we were told to believe them or just because we never really thought the matter through ourselves. A belief may really only be an area that has been protected from thinking for many years.
The Moses Meme
Long before I was old enough to really think the matter through, I had been memed, as a small child, with the theory of Moses. It went something like this: Moses was a leader in ancient times and, like all leaders, he needed his people to adhere to his laws. He said that his ten laws or commandments should be obeyed. The reason that they should be obeyed, he claimed, was because they were given to him, privately, on a mountain, by his god, Yahweh. By making this claim, Moses positioned his ten laws with the highest possible authority. They were not his laws, said Moses, but God’s.
This is a very old story that many people, like me, just accepted but have never really updated or thought through properly. I had never really thought much about the Moses story until I was given an antique gift. It was a heavy Victorian cast-iron desk ornament about half a metre long which was grotesquely dominated by a 50-centimetre high copy of Michelangelo’s Moses supported by two large topped blown-glass inkwells and a generous ladle for pens. It was absurdly out of place on my desk in my small Park Avenue South apartment but I liked it. Moses lorded over my desk in New York City for ten years until eventually I returned to Australia. Sadly, it was one of the many things that I left behind. But for most of the ’80s I sat and stared at Moses nearly every day. Eventually, I began to think more and more about the theory of Moses.
What is the theory of Moses? This is just one of the five most obvious questions. We cannot explore that question without the other four: Who was Moses? What did Moses do? How did he do it? And, when and where did he do it?
If you do stop to think about this story in the light of evidence available today you might ask yourself for a more plausible version. Since there were no witnesses or evidence of any kind we don’t know whether Moses’ version actually happened. Yet there is much evidence to show that it is very unlikely.
Three of the world’s major religions – the ‘one God meme’ of Judaism, Islam and Christianity – are evolved variations of ‘monotheism’. However, the first recorded evidence of this meme from which all the above versions have evolved arises only about a hundred years before Moses. It was King Tut’s father, the pharaoh Akhenaton, who was the inventor of monotheism. Although Moses gets all the credit, the evidence shows that this heretic king invented the first monotheistic meme about 3000 years ago.
Many scholars have written about this, not the least of whom Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, who wrote in Moses and Monotheism that the real Moses was born an Egyptian prince, not a Jewish slave and had become a monotheist, after Akhenaton. In his opening paragraph Freud writes:
‘To deny a people the man whom it praises as the greatest of its sons is not a deed to be undertaken lightheartedly – especially by one belonging to that people. No consideration, however, will move me to set aside truth in favour of national interests. Moreover, the elucidation of the mere facts of the problem may be expected to deepen our insight into the situation with which they are concerned.’
Throughout the millennia of human cultural evolution there is much evidence proving the invention by thinkers of thousands of such ‘black-box memes’. These memes evolved to fill the needs of the brain to make some sense of the inexplicable physics of the world. Take for instance the ‘god memes’ that modern man has invented over the last 100,000 years, such as the ‘Zeus meme’ to explain the phenomenon of lightning or the ‘god of the Nile’ meme to explain why the Nile flooded from time to time. On New Year’s Day 2005, amidst the tragedy and destruction of the Indian Ocean tsunami, some people claimed it was an act of God. A poll, conducted by The Age newspaper in Melbourne, returned the following results:
Faith and disasters
Question: Has the tsunami shaken your faith in God?
No, it is all part of God’s plan -------------------------------- 12 per cent
No, evil things happen despite the power of God ---------- 18 per cent
No, my faith is strengthened by the world’s response ------- 14 per cent
Yes, a caring God would never let this happen -------------- 3 per cent
Yes, I have now lost all faith in God --------------------------- 2 per cent
I don’t believe in God. This was a natural phenomenon ---- 52 per cent
Total Votes: 2072
There are many examples of how the clever human brain has evolved its role as an effective explanation-creating mechanism. This is not the same thing as explaining the actual phenomena. Just because a meme has infected millions of brains is not enough reason, by itself, to make the meme a truth. There needs to be the balance of evidence that enables us to differentiate the false memes from the truer memes. In fact, if you think about it, there are many possible explanations that could explain the Moses meme and how he came up with his commandments. Some that have been suggested by other thinkers are:
In other words, we simply just don’t know for certain. However, millions of people who adhere to the Judeo-Christian tradition have chosen to take a leap of faith and to believe the traditional Moses claim. A Christian or Jewish scientist could not accept this story as a scientist, but could accept it, on a leap of faith, as part of a religious belief system.
Science + Religion
The argument between science and religion is a false one. It is simply a matter of distinguishing between those things we believe because we have tested them and are part of science, and those things we believe because we cannot test them so we take a leap of faith. In a free country, there is no reason why we cannot hold viewpoints in both areas as long as we are able to distinguish between the two. Most American books on selling come from a religious tradition. To help restore the balance a little, this book on selling comes out of science.
This html-coded online version of the Wombat Final 15/5/06 9:12 AM -- wombatbook.pdf, was prepared by Darlene Sartore with some minor adaptations and color texting, for use only by course presenters certified by Ideal Network Academy. Use permission herein granted from author Michael Hewitt-Gleeson on March 5, 2007.
Go To Chapter 3