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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #5A: 

                Scientific Materialism

  Worldview Theme #5B: Vitalism 

Contrast Worldview Themes #5A and #5B --  these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!            

Contrast Worldview Themes #5A and #7A --  these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!            

Contrast Worldview Themes #5A and #8A --  these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!            

Contrast Worldview Themes #5A and #14A --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!  

Contrast Worldview Themes #5A and #14B --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!  

amino acids--found in all living things, these organic molecules are the building blocks of protein. Technically, they contain amino (NH2) and carboxyl (COOH) groups.  Just as letters of the alphabet are chained together to form words, varying sequences of amino acids form a multitude of different proteins.  The twenty of them used in cells to synthesize proteins are called the standard amino acids. The mapping between amino acids and sequences of three nucleotides (called codons) is often referred to as the genetic code.

Big Bang Theory—the cosmological theory that the observable universe began with everything (all matter, energy, etc) in an incredibly compact, hot, dense state, after which an event (the Big Bang) occurred that began the universe's currently observed expansion.   More observational support comes from the detection and study of a primordial fireball radiation remnant left over from the early days of the universe,  and continuing confirmation of the amounts of elements --notably helium--formed in the first few minutes after the Big Bang (currently believed to be roughly fourteen billion years ago).  An important refinement of this theory occurred (in the 1980s) with the addition of an “inflationary era” to the universe’s initial moments.   

cell--the structural, functional, and organizational unit of life: its building blocks. While some simple organisms are single celled, complex ones--like humans--can be made of many trillion cells.

creating life in the lab -- Using the nucleotide blocking blocks of DNA (A, C, G, T) in the form of dust like powders, an instruction set they design (specifying complicated sequence based on A, C, G, T) and a DNA sequencer machine, researchers can make genes. They are working on synthesizing a gel-like container (enclosed volume with a manmade cell membrane) from non-living organic molecules to hold the genes they make. Many feel that creating life in the lab is a very doable project that will be much cheaper and easier than putting man on the moon and will happen sooner than most people think. When someone expresses surprise upon hearing this, expresses skepticism based on the notion that some divine spark or God blowing the “breath of life” will be needed so that they can’t possibly succeed, they reiterate that creating life in the lab is a very doable project!

dark matter / dark energy--hypothetical forms of matter and energy that don't emit radiation but whose existence can be inferred by other means.  Astrophysicists believe that dark matter exists due to its gravitational effects on other matter and that 22% of the observable universe's mass / energy content is in this form. Black holes represent one form of it. Dark energy--believed to account for 74% of the observable universe's mass / energy content--can be inferred to exist from the observed acceleration in the expansion of the universe. Only 4% of the universe is believed to consist of ordinary matter that emits visible radiation. Failure to understand what 96% of the universe is should keep astrophysicists humble! 

determinism -- the belief that future events are fixed and predetermined by preceding events and the forces acting on matter. Belief in determinism -- and the accompanying notion that any free will that humans seem to possess is just an illusion -- was scientifically supportable up until the full development of quantum mechanics prior to 1930. After that, appreciation of the uncertainty principle and the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanical predictions began to soften the position of hard core determinists

DNA -- deoxyribonucleic acid, the gene bearing double helix molecule, that is the primary hereditary molecule in most species. It’s made up of millions or billions of pairs of linked subunits (called nucleotides) that, along the length of the molecule, can be specified using letters (only possible designations of each individual link: AT, TA,CG, GC) in composing a long genetic code sequence.

empiricism -- the belief that all knowledge comes from experience. As part of the foundation of science it stresses that scientific knowledge ultimately should be based on observation and experiment.

evolution -- the ongoing process of physical, chemical and biological change that can be traced from the beginning of the universe, to the lifeless Earth coming into existence 4.5 billion years ago, and to its current state of teeming with a diversity of living things. Biological evolution refers to the process by which the individual members of a species, and species themselves, slowly change due to changes in genetic makeup, environmental circumstances, etc.

extraterrestrial life--although efforts--most notably looking for artificially produced signals using huge radio telescopes--have been ongoing for nearly 50 years, intelligent life has not been detected!   Beginning in the mid- 1990s extra-solar planets have been detected. There are now hundreds of such discoveries, allowing astronomers to conclude that, most likely, the majority of stars possess planets.  Given that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies, and that galaxies each typically have hundreds of billions of stars, odds seem good that at least one of these (besides our Sun) has a planet where (like Earth) there is intelligent life.  One might even guess that such life is commonplace...But then (as physicist Enrico Fermi asked), "Where are they?"  Some have suggested that the lifetime of advanced civilizations is short (they destroy themselves, like we may!) and this explains the nil results of project SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence).  Of course, no reputable astronomer believes that unidentified flying objects represent alien spacecraft visiting Earth! 

gene -- generally they can be thought of as the basic physical and functional unit of heredity that is transmitted from one generation of living things to the next. Perhaps more importantly than any other factor, our genes determine what we become--shaping everything from what we look like to how we behave.  Located on chromosomes residing in the nuclei of cells, specifically they are segments of DNA coded to provide instructions for making particular proteins.

homeostasis --the normal steady state condition of a living organism in which a balanced internal environment is maintained . At both cellular and tissue levels, energy and mass transfers occur, metabolic activities are regulated, and various control mechanisms function. Typically many organ systems work together to maintain the internal environment's temperature, pressure, nutrient concentrations, waste products, etc. within normal ranges.  When external stresses overwhelm the organism's ability to maintain normal conditions, the results can be malfunction, disease, and--if the damage cannot be repaired and homeostasis restored--death.

human evolution--the evolutionary change that saw modern humans (homo sapiens) develop from the earliest primates over the sixty-five million years since dinosaurs became extinct.  The common ancestor of monkeys and apes (a family which includes "naked apes" or humans) was the lemur--a rat sized mammal.  The evolutionary paths of gorillas, chimpanzees and humans split around ten million years ago. The first members of the genus "Homo" appeared around 2.5 million years ago, and homo sapiens  around 250,000 years ago.  A 1987 study, based on analysis of DNA in mitochondria (the cell's power plant), announced that all modern humans are descended from a female (dubbed "Eve") who lived 200,000 years ago.  Studies based on both archeological and genetic evidence suggest that humans lived exclusively in Africa until 50,000 years ago--when a small group left their home-land in the Great Rift Valley.  Geneticists' maps (based on DNA markers in Y chromosomes) trace their subsequent migration--to  Asia, then the Middle East and Europe. There, they out-competed a rival species, homo neanderthalensis, which died out 30,000 years.  After crossing Siberia, humans populated the Americas 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. 

life--a difficult to define term, partly due to the diversity of life on Earth, and partly due to how one answers the question, "Are viruses alive?"  Those who answer in the affirmative typically require that living things are able to make copies of themselves (replication), use matter and energy to regulate and sustain themselves (homeostasis and metabolism), and repair errors that may arise in their genetic or metabolic related structures.  Most biologists feel that viruses are not truly living organisms.  Their definitions might typically also require that living things be made of cells and they be able to reproduce and metabolize on their own--not through the hijacking of some other organism's cellular machinery. Of course the preceding definition is modern science based. Those embracing vitalism may build their definitions around the idea that living things possess a vital spark or life force.

matter, building blocks of--Pure substances which can't be chemically broken down into simpler things are called elements: there are around 100 of them found in nature.  The smallest parts of an element that retain its distinctive chemical properties are called atoms--which themselves are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Atoms, which are roughly one tenth of a nanometer (nm = billionth of a meter) in diameter, chain together to form molecules. While molecules vary greatly in size, they are typically around one nanometer across.  Nucleic acids (like DNA and RNA), amino acids, and proteins are examples of biologically important molecules--which are typically synthesized inside cells.    

matter / energy equivalence--refers to physicists' assertion that all matter--specified by its mass--has (rest) energy, that energy can become matter, and that E=mc2 demonstrates their equivalence.    

natural selection -- a natural process that has the effect of allowing the survival and reproduction of those individuals best adapted to their environment. It operates at genetic, individual organism, and group / species levels and over very long time periods and is the mechanism that explains the appearance of design in nature without invoking the presence of a designer.

nucleotides--what DNA (and its cousin RNA) are made of.  Technically, they are large molecules composed of phosphate group(s), five-carbon sugar, and a ring of nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen atoms.

Occam's Razor--the principle that, if two hypotheses or explanations do an equally good job fitting or explaining the data, the simpler one--with the fewest number of assumptions--is   preferred.  It has been referred to as "the law of parsimony".

physics -- the science concerned with understanding the physical world, that uses physical concepts, most notably matter, energy, and forces, to make sense out of it.

positivism (as applied to science)--the belief that science should concern itself only with what can be directly observed. In philosophy it is a form of phenomenalism, the doctrine that only objective phenomena perceived by the senses, and not subjective things or abstract constructions, are known. Thus Ernest Mach, both physicist and positivist, never accepted the reality of atoms (which in his heyday around 1900, had not been captured in photographic images, like they have been today). Even in the 21st century, a few "positivists" question aspects of physicists' theories. For example, they fault the Standard Model (of fundamental building blocks of matter / forces ) for being based on constructs like quarks and gluons--which in principle can never be isolated and observed. Most physicists are not so constrained, being "realists" who will support whatever model does the best job of explaining the observations and making useful predictions. Few, if any, however, will involve metaphysical entities (vital spirits or whatever) for which there is no observational evidence in their modeling of reality.

probability / random events -- the likelihood of a particular outcome occurring. In certain cases, this can be computed by dividing the number of ways the event can occur by the number of total outcomes possible.. Example: in the roll of a die (singular of dice!) the probability of rolling the number three is 1 divided by 6 = 16.7 % or .167. A probability of 100 % or 1.00 means it is absolutely certain that a particular outcome will occur. The concept of probability is intimately connected to that of events that happen at random -- meaning with no predictable pattern (at least with respect to knowing for sure what will happen next).

protein--can be considered at two different levels: 1) in a microscopic sense, proteins are the chief structural component of cells. These large biologically important molecules are built from amino acids. A gene defines the sequence of amino acids in a protein.  2) macroscopically, in a nutritional sense, protein refers to the total nitrogenous (nitrogen containing) material in a plant or animal identified as essential nutrients.  Meat, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and grains are sources of protein--which vary in their biological availability and nutritional benefits.

quantum mechanics -- a branch of physics, developed in the first half of the 20th century, dealing with motion and interactions of matter on very small scales (typically atomic or subatomic). Unlike the visible, large scale realm of classical physics -- where predicted future behavior of individual particles involves deterministic certainties -- predicting the behavior of discrete particles in the quantum realm involves probabilities not certainties.

rationalism -- a philosophical orientation that links finding ultimate truth to employing reasoning

reductionism -- the philosophical belief that understanding a complex phenomenon, system, structure, organism, etc. (or solving a complicated problem) is best done by breaking it into smaller, more manageable parts (problems), and studying those parts (or first solving those smaller problems). Often accompanying a reductionistic approach to understanding is the belief that the whole is nothing more than the sum of the parts. Reductionism is the opposite of wholism (holism).

reproduction--the process--typically involving cells dividing, combining, or both--by which life creates new life and organisms perpetuate themselves.  It involves a species transmitting genetic information, in the form of hereditary material known as DNA, which insures that the structure, function, and other things associated with the species are passed on. Reproduction can be asexual--where a single parent splits to produce genetically identical offspring, or sexual--where offspring who are genetically unique individuals result from a combination of genes contributed by each parent.  Changes known as mutations, either random or due to radiation / environmental factors, in reproductive cells can be passed on to the next generation--resulting in unexpected genetic differences, birth defects or diseases.     

scientism -- an ideology that asserts that 1) the methods of the natural sciences should be used in all areas of investigation including philosophy, humanities, and the social sciences, and 2) only these methods can fruitfully be used in the quest for knowledge.

teleology -- the idea that there is a design or purpose inherent in everything and belief that events unfold toward some divinely specified ultimate end or that everything strives to fulfill some purpose

  Contrast Worldview Themes #5A and #5B -- these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!           

angel -- a bodiless, spiritual being, limited in power and intelligence, but nonetheless superior to man. In traditional belief in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, good angels live in heaven , are able to visit Earth (in both visible and invisible forms), are sometimes depicted with wings, and sometimes provide messages and / or offer protection. Dark angels, living in hell, are the evil counterparts of good angels.

apparition -- a visual paranormal appearance, often spontaneous, which reportedly often suggests the actual appearance of someone distant or dead (what many would call a ghost!).

animism -- the belief that all things, living or non-living, possess a spirit or soul that is separate from their physical form.

astral body -- a duplicate of a person’s physical body but nonphysical in nature. It is what supposedly leaves the body in out of body experiences.

aura -- a field or envelope of colored radiation that those sensitives who perceive it say surrounds the human body to one extent or another, varying with the person’s physical, psychological or spiritual state

chakra--according to yoga practitioners / healers, chakras are human body centers that receive, store, express and convey spiritual energy associated with a life force.  Some view them in terms of mediating different levels of consciousness.  There are seven primary chakras--connected with branchings of the nervous system in the spine, and with Chinese medicine acupuncture points.

Ch'i (or in recent spelling, Qi) -- an ancient term from China referring to the vital breath or energy that animates the Cosmos. In Chinese medicine, the goal of acupuncture is to stimulate the flow of ch’i through the human body.

consciousness -- one of those difficult to define terms. Here are four definitions: 1) generally thought of as a process not a thing, held by religious tradition to reside in the soul or spirit, and identified with self awareness; 2) an inward sensibility of something -- knowledge of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, etc -- and comprising the sum total of mental processes occurring at any moment; 3) according to Roger Penrose, the non-algorithmic, judgment-forming ability to separate truth from falsity, beauty from ugliness, etc; 4) according to some in the artificial intelligence community, it merely passively accompanies a sufficiently elaborate control system (based on algorithms) -- but doesn’t do anything. To some consciousness is linked to intelligence; linguist Ray Jackendoff and philosopher Ned Block have distinguished three more specialized meanings: 1) self knowledge (including the ability to recognize one’s self in a mirror), 2) sentience (knowing “what is it like” to be someone because you are that someone), and 3) access to information. 

dreams--a series of thoughts, images or feelings --particularly of anxiety or aggression--that one experiences during sleep. While dreams have a long history--the Bible provides accounts of  several seemingly prophetic ones--researchers are unsure as to how to explain them.  Various scientific explanations have been offered: that dreams allow the brain to consolidate memories, consider thoughts / memories / feelings  that would otherwise be repressed, aid creative thinking, anticipate future contingencies, etc. Vitalists postulate that dreams are one way spirits communicate.

dualism of substance-- an answer to the classical One / Many problem that asserts that Reality is ultimately composed of two different kinds of substance, typically referred to as mind (or spirit) and matter.

ghost–in popular usage, this refers to an apparition of someone who is dead–supposedly his or her disembodied spirit.   Reportedly such spirits are associated with the once real person's belongings and are responsible for hauntings.  While anecdotal evidence for the reality of ghosts is widespread and cuts across cultures / time, skeptics are unimpressed by it.

kundalini -- in Yogic philosophy, a nonphysical energy derived from prana that is capable of activating chakras -- generally dormant psychic centers in the body. There are seven major chakras, believed by some to reside in the astral body, and held by others to be associated with nerve centers in the physical body. 

medium -- a sensitive person who apparently perceives and communicates with the spirit world, or who acts as a channel for spirits to speak through direct voice. Whereas mental mediums are limited to receiving and transmitting messages, physical mediums can produce physical effects such as levitation or materialization.

mind / body problem -- this is summarized by the question, “How do our thoughts, beliefs, desires and other intangibles in our mind interact with our bodies and trigger the actions and behaviors that are so real and tangible -- and in an total effect have so dramatically reshaped the natural world? Theories of the mind have evolved from being built around “soul” to “substance” and “behavior” -- leading to the late 20th century emphasis on interpreting the mind according to what it does, not what it is. But now, at the beginning of the 21st century, based on new understanding of how the brain works and theoretical insights spurred by efforts to create artificial intelligence, the most popular theory -- the computational theory of the mind -- goes beyond behaviorism in asserting, “The mind is what the brain does”.

near death experience -- what the wide awake consciousness of a patient who is near death (in a few cases has been declared clinically dead!) experiences, and later reports after recovery. After examining many such reports, researchers conclude that the experiences are remarkably vivid and seem to share certain common features. These include a 1) review of one’s life, sometimes experienced as flashing before one’s eyes, 2) a feeling of peace, euphoria, joy, freedom from pain and fear, 3) a feeling that one’s consciousness has detached from one’s body and is floating high above , 4) seeing light at the end of a tunnel, and a feeling of traveling through the tunnel and encountering a world of light and color, 5) meeting and telepathically communicating with long lost relatives, 6) seeing a supernatural, luminous, benevolent presence, and 7) despite feeling great happiness, sensing unfinished business and deciding to return. While exactly what is reported varies: some of it seems to cut across cultural and religious boundaries, while some images are only reported by those of the same religious background.

New Age Movement-- an affluent Western society movement that grew out of mind expanding experiences of the 1960s and really blossomed in the 1970s, which blends older religious and spiritual traditions from both east and west with more modern ideas about human consciousness, human potential, psychology, physics, and ecology.  While New Age enthusiasts possess diverse (and sometimes conflicting) beliefs, one notion embraced by many "New Agers" is the idea that all living things--and, for many, all matter in general--is fundamentally interconnected (either spiritually, by some life force, energy, consciousness, light, God, etc.) The movement provides a large umbrella under which one finds mystics, psychics, astrologers, alternative health practitioners, those who value meditation / ancient wisdom,  believers in reincarnation, angels, the magic powers of crystals, Atlantis, UFOs and space aliens, etc.  Perhaps 20 % of the adults in western societies are sympathetic to New Age beliefs --including  pseudoscientists and quacks, a few respected scientists / doctors / scholars--and many promoting some belief / product and seeking monetary gain.

out of body experience -- the experience of one’s consciousness seeming to be in a place separate from one’s physical body, also called astral travel or astral projection.

panentheism -- unlike pantheism, which equates God and the universe, panentheism extends this with the following beliefs: 1) there is more to God than the material universe, as in “the whole is more than the sum of the parts”, 2) God is the animating force behind the universe, 3) as the Creator, God exists and remains within all Creation, and 4) God is the source of a universal morality.

pluralism of substance-- an answer to the classical One / Many problem that asserts that Reality is ultimately composed of many kinds of substances.

quantum mechanics & consciousness--a minority of scientists believe that explaining consciousness necessarily involves use of quantum mechanics.  The way it is used range from the esteemed mathematical physicist Roger Penrose's idea that consciousness arises from quantum effects in the microtubular structures inside cells, to a few fringe scientists belief that consciousness is coherent light related to "biophoton" emission, to New Age enthusiasts' notion that living consciousness resides in the quantum (vacuum) field and that individual human consciousness is both part of and has access to information stored in this all-pervading collective consciousness. Some of the latter relate consciousness to a "life force" and see an individual's consciousness as surviving his or her death.

Reiki—originating in Japan, this is a healing technique based on touching that supposedly revitalizes energy fields within the body .  The term Reiki refers to the Japanese pronunciation of the life force energy that the Chinese refer to as Ch’i or Qi.  Some think of Reiki as a spiritual practice, others liken it to faith healing or  “laying on of hands”.  Those western medical practitioners who have not warmed to eastern alternative medicine may blast it as pseudoscientific.     

seance -- a meeting between one or more persons and a medium typically with the purpose of communicating with the spirits of deceased people

soul -- another term difficult to define. Here are three definitions: 1) the vital spirit in all human beings; 2) the part of a human being that is immortal; 3) the feeling /emotional domain of one’s personality

spirit-- another term difficult to define.  Here are three definitions:  1) an animating principle or vital force that gives life to organisms. It accounts for the difference between a living being and dead corpse.  2) A non-physical, non-quantifiable substance or energy present in living things   While spirit is sometimes considered synonymous with soul, for many this latter term implies having an immortal existence--something not necessarily attributed to spirits. 3) an apparition, ghost, demon, sprite, or supernatural being.  Of course God falls in this last category. It should be noted some conceptions of spirit include the belief that all individual spirits interconnect to form a greater unity, oneness, Cosmic Mind, etc.  

spirit possession--belief that drastic behavioral changes in a person are due to a spirit, demon, etc. that takes possession / control of the person's body.  Exorcism refers to means employed in ridding the body of such possession

spirituality--can be narrowly defined as the quality or state of being spiritual--which relates to matters pertaining to vital spirit or soul--or it can be much more broadly considered.  Definitions that fit into this latter category are: 1) "the process and result of nurturing one's soul and developing one's spiritual life" (David N. Elkins),  and 2) "one's spirituality is the range of one's emotional relationships to those questions that cannot be answered..."like  'What happens when you die?'"(Jaron Lanier).  Some confine their spirituality to the boundaries provided by traditional religion;  others look elsewhere to meet their spiritual needs.

witchcraft / Wicca--the use of sorcery or magic, the practice of which varies widely.  It has roots in a pre-Christian, nature-centered witchcraft religion based on Goddess worship. In post-Christian European cultures it became linked to evil, and the Devil.  Witches were typically women, believed to have supernatural powers, who perhaps practiced in secret.  During the height of the witch mania, the 15th--17th centuries, hundreds of thousands of women are believed to have been burned at the stake. Wicca is a 20th century revival of ancient pagan witchcraft--which  incorporates worship of God and Goddess.  These are sometimes seen as dual, complementary aspects of a universal life force--symbolized by the Sun and Moon.


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