Ed Hudgins

Scientology, Seizures, and Science

Recommended Posts

Scientology, Seizures, and Science

by Edward Hudgins

January 13, 2009 -- Jett Travolta, the sixteen-year-old son of actors John Travolta and Kelly Preston, died recently of what the autopsy found to be a seizure. The boy had a history of seizures and unconfirmed reports suggest that his parents acted responsibly to ensure he was on medication to mitigate his condition.

We don’t know yet what caused the seizure—a change in medication or dosage, or a worsening of the underlying condition that caused the seizures.

I’ve held in my arms a dear loved-one during her seizures, someone who fortunately now survives and flourishes thanks to modern medicine. Thus I can identify personally with the dangers of such conditions and appreciate the imperative to understand and treat them.

And we can all have sympathy for Travolta and Preston and hope that progress in medical science can reduce the number of such tragedies so that other parents can be spared terrible grief and suffering.

But there’s a sad irony here: Scientology, the religion to which Travolta and Preston belong, and other irrational belief systems have, in principle and practice, always stood in the way of such progress.

Scientology was created by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard. Its secret teachings apparently maintain that 75 million years ago the galactic tyrant Xenu anaesthetized billions of his enemies; flew them in spaceships to Earth; dropped them into volcanoes and nuked them; and collected their ghosts—called “thetans”—in giant theaters to show them movies that left them thoroughly confused and wandering aimlessly on our planet.

“So what?” you might ask. “All religions have weird beliefs.” True! Mormons believe that God lives around the star Kolob with his wife. Catholics believe that the bread they eat at communion is the actual, real, no-fooling flesh of Jesus. And Muslims believe that Mohammad flew to heaven on a winged horse.

But Scientologists believe that all of what they deem as psychological and mental problems stem from thetans that inhabit each of us from birth and that such problems should never be treated with medication. Actor and high-profile Scientologist Tom Cruise made headlines in 2003 for denouncing actress Brooke Shields for taking the drug Paxil for herpostpartum depression.

It is probably true that too many in the psychology field pass out pill bottles rather than deal with patients’ underlying problems and that over-medication causes some suffering. There is need among health professionals, those who suffer such problems, and their families and friends for serious critical thinking and study about abuses of drugs.

Yet serious critical thinking is just what Scientologists reject. Their beliefs are not based on evidence, serious thought, or a search for the truth but, rather, on a refusal to question critically, their own self-delusions, and, many would argue, outright brainwashing. Can an honest individual really believe the Xeno nonsense? Do Hubble telescope photos, archeological finds, or MRI brain scans support this belief? Of course not!

Yet Scientologists argue against the use of medications for psychological and mental problems not based on sound science but, rather, on their own bizarre fantasies. They favor a pseudo-science practice called “auditing” that is supposed to clear individuals of those pesky thetans.

In point of fact, research on the brain in recent decades reveals the biological basis for many aspects of human behavior and for many psychological and mental problems. That research is allowing us to refine the way we treat these problems, sometimes involving medications, sometimes not. Many lives have been saved and much suffering—for example, from clinical depression—has been mitigated by such treatments.

“So what?” you might ask again. “Scientology is a small, fringe, flying-saucer religion that attracts eccentric Hollywood types.” To begin with, the adherents to this cult and their family members can suffer from the substitution of quackery for proper medication.

But my more general point is that our twenty-first century culture is still riddled with outrageous beliefs that result from a rejection of the rational path to knowledge. Beliefs in astrology, palm reading, tarot cards, and numerology waste time and might cause only limited harm to the individuals who buy into them. But Creationism results in attempts to force schools to teach fairy tales alongside the hard-won knowledge of evolutionary science, as if they were equally valid; such a curriculum would undermine respect for rational approach to knowledge. And the consequences of Scientology and Christian Science—why do science’s opponents expropriate the term “science”?—can be deadly.

Life, health, and prosperity on this earth require a commitment by individuals to objective reality and a critical approach to knowledge as well as a culture to support that commitment. How can we promote such a culture? One way is to treat those who advocate beliefs—whether religious, ideological or otherwise—not based on or subject to reason and critical thinking the same way we should treat those who hate others based purely on race or some other accident of birth: their ideas should be legally tolerated but their irrationality treated as ugly and immoral.

It’s always sad when a young life like Jett Travolta’s is ended so prematurely. For those who value life, such tragedies should reinforce the commitment to reason, our basic tool for survival and flourishing in this world.

----

Hudgins is executive director of The Atlas Society, the Center for Objectivism.

For further reading:

Edward Hudgins, “Is Miss Cleo a Criminal? She Certainly is a Fraud.” March 18, 2002, also published in An Objectivist Secular Reader, a June 2008 collection edited Hudgins and available from The Objectivism Store.

Interview” with John Bechtel, a former Jehovah’s Witness. Navigator, April 2000.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There is a substantial percentage of Americans who believe in ghosts, miracles and a young Earth (circa 6000 years). No matter how spectacular the successes of science it makes nary a dent in the intellects of a large number of people. There is no prospect that the naturalistic understanding of the world will triumph in this country. And that is a shame.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...their ideas should be legally tolerated but their irrationality treated as ugly and immoral.

Their irrationality is truely unfortunate, but why must you pronounce it as immoral? This is probably my biggest beef with objectivism. I too believe in rationality, especially as practiced in science, (see Science and Sanity) but is an unsane or insane person immoral? I view them as having an illness and we should have compassion for sick people - after all, they wouldn't be sick if they had a choice would they?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A lot of my work now is looking at the anatomy and even biological/evolutionary basis of beliefs, of how our minds inform our inferences and how education and training might discipline us to deal with tihs situation. There's a lot of work needed in this area.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

General - There is always a judgement call about whether someone holds a belief because they are honestly mistaken, intellectually lazy and sloppy, or actually evading reality, willing that they blind themselves.

One of the reasons for forming TAS is that we do not assume that in all or perhaps most cases mistaken equals immoral. But it sometimes does. So I agree with your cautionary note. But I have in fact judged individuals to be acting from malice and ill-will and using reason--really rationalizations and sophistry--to distort and mislead. It's important to know the type of person with which you're dealing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On a personal note I give thanks that even through my mother was a Christian Scientist my father was not. I think that fact kept me reasonably safe. My brother, sister and I would always have to go and get the medical treatment when it became vitally important.

I suspect the cases of Christian Scientist's children's death are cases with only a single parent or with both patents being Christian Scientists.

I note both Travolta's were Scientologists/

Edited by Chris Grieb

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
General - There is always a judgement call about whether someone holds a belief because they are honestly mistaken, intellectually lazy and sloppy, or actually evading reality, willing that they blind themselves.

One of the reasons for forming TAS is that we do not assume that in all or perhaps most cases mistaken equals immoral. But it sometimes does. So I agree with your cautionary note. But I have in fact judged individuals to be acting from malice and ill-will and using reason--really rationalizations and sophistry--to distort and mislead. It's important to know the type of person with which you're dealing.

Very true, however, when dealing with sick individuals, if you will allow my use of the term for now, any attempt to label them as immoral will most likely make the sickness worse and so this approach seems counterproductive to actually changing the behaviour, if that is your intention. In general semantics this reaction to a word, like 'immoral', is called a semantic reaction, and it is believed that paying attention to semantic reactions is extremely important in any kind of therapeutic setting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks MSK!

General - On the issue on whether calling someone "immoral" helps, we need to ask, what are the goals of our actions?

After I wrote this piece late last week, I spent day and night of the weekend helping with the elderly father of a dear friend, a father with serious physical and mental problems that came to a head because of his abuse of some medication against doctor’s order that counteracted the affects of other medications he takes and absolutely needs. Some of his problems are self-inflicted, because of past and recent errors, and he was not free of moral guilt in the way he treated those trying to help him. But our goal was not inflict further pain on him through damnations but to help him.

And as I mentioned on RofR, in light of both theory and my personal experience, when I hear a bunch of mentally lazy, weak-minded, self-deluded individual cult members wielding deadly, patently nonsensical notions about our minds and medication like an irresponsible maniac wielding a sword in a crowd, I want to make it as crystal clear as possible what they are doing and what the painful, horrific, and deadly results might be. This isn't a goddam child's game. If they want to act silly at Sci-fi conventions, fine. But don't promote such garbage in the public arena and ruin lives.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ed,

It looks like you got yourself some free publicity from Objectivism's very own touchy-huffy noodle-shrew.

After blasting you for the choice of subject matter in your fine essay on the dangers of irresponsible and irrational pop-psychology, I quote the terrifying termagant:

Bravo, TAS! Every time I think you've hit bottom, you outdo yourself with another inanity!

I have never seen anyone hit bottom, much less pass it, for something they did not write.

This must be a new form of normative abstraction in Objectivist epistemology. With more of such laser-focused mental effort, someday Objectivists will be able to scale the Catholic heights with Objectivism's own brand of 7 deadly sins of omission.

:)

(Maybe she's just ticked that TAS did not die like she predicted.)

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Michael; Could you tell how you really feel about Dinah.

On a more series note as I pointed out in my post cults even small ones can produce very serious effects.

Ed Hudgins will be talking about the incoming Obama administration.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And as I mentioned on RofR, in light of both theory and my personal experience, when I hear a bunch of mentally lazy, weak-minded, self-deluded individual cult members wielding deadly, patently nonsensical notions about our minds and medication like an irresponsible maniac wielding a sword in a crowd, I want to make it as crystal clear as possible what they are doing and what the painful, horrific, and deadly results might be. This isn't a goddam child's game. If they want to act silly at Sci-fi conventions, fine. But don't promote such garbage in the public arena and ruin lives.

At times, I have felt this way about our mainstream medicine system. :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And as I mentioned on RofR, in light of both theory and my personal experience, when I hear a bunch of mentally lazy, weak-minded, self-deluded individual cult members wielding deadly, patently nonsensical notions about our minds and medication like an irresponsible maniac wielding a sword in a crowd, I want to make it as crystal clear as possible what they are doing and what the painful, horrific, and deadly results might be. This isn't a goddam child's game. If they want to act silly at Sci-fi conventions, fine. But don't promote such garbage in the public arena and ruin lives.

At times, I have felt this way about our mainstream medicine system. :D

Yup, doctors make mistakes. So when Scientologists and others point out that there is a lot of abuse of medications, they're right.

Of course, valid medicine seeks knowledge through a process of experimentation and critical analysis, a process by which errors can be detected and corrected. A religion or cult rejects that process at various levels, simply accepting arbitrary propositions, most of which sound crazy on their face, and maintaining that those propositions are not and should not be subject to rational examiniation.

And, of course, the practice of medicine is an art in the sense that it is the application of principles to particular cases: what's the treatment that will most likely bring about the best health results for this flesh-and-blood individual with all his/her symptoms, biological and psychological particulars, and the like.

Of course, I find the best way to avoid all of these questions is simply not to get sick, but I haven't quite figured out how to do that yet! :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

MSK –I haven’t read Diana Hsieh’s post other than what you quote here. But it is interesting to look at cases of individuals whose minds seem to combine subjective outbursts, personal malice, rationalization, and sometimes reason in pursuit of truth on certain matters.

I’m very interested at this time in the real workings of the minds of people who hold religious or other irrational beliefs, who combine in themselves some rational and some irrational ideas, and who behave in corresponding mixed manner. How much of their behavior and thinking comes from wrong ideas or a misunderstanding of ideas? How much from personal psychology and emotional character? How much from bad moral habits or outright malice?

I’m very interested in developing way to think about a new paideia or way to think about education and training of the whole person, both intellect and emotions. Not surprisingly, Objectivism offers some real help in thinking about this matter.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ed:

I did not realize that Mortimer Adler's 1980's group was named Paideia by him.

"The Paideia Group, naming themselves with the Greek word, παιδεια, meaning the training and teaching of a child."

In 1991, The Paideia Group declared twelve principles, prefaced by “We, the members of the Paideia Group, hold these truths to be the principles of the Paideia

Program (Adler, 1982).” Some of the principles stated are as follows:

That all children can learn

That the three callings for which schooling should prepare all Americans are, (a)

to earn a decent livelihood, (B) to be a good citizen of the nation and the world,

and © to make a good life for one’s self.

That the desire to continue their own learning should be the prime motivation of

those who dedicate their lives to the profession of teaching. (Adler, 1982)

I am still amazed that this is even debatable!

Adam

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Of course, valid medicine seeks knowledge through a process of experimentation and critical analysis, a process by which errors can be detected and corrected. A religion or cult rejects that process at various levels, simply accepting arbitrary propositions, most of which sound crazy on their face, and maintaining that those propositions are not and should not be subject to rational examiniation.

I think it is a serious mistake to imagine that our current medical systems are "valid', in the way you describe. I believe that the system is more interested in keeping people sick because they make so much money off of sickness. For example, there has been a link between Vitamin C and preventing atherosclerosis for 50 some years and yet almost no doctors know about it meanwhile in the US some $100 billion a year is spent on angioplasty and bypass surgery with no significant increase in the lifespan of patients. There is no money in prevention. I am glad I live in a time when you find out so much so easily with the internet.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And as I mentioned on RofR, in light of both theory and my personal experience, when I hear a bunch of mentally lazy, weak-minded, self-deluded individual cult members wielding deadly, patently nonsensical notions about our minds and medication like an irresponsible maniac wielding a sword in a crowd, I want to make it as crystal clear as possible what they are doing and what the painful, horrific, and deadly results might be. This isn't a goddam child's game. If they want to act silly at Sci-fi conventions, fine. But don't promote such garbage in the public arena and ruin lives.

At times, I have felt this way about our mainstream medicine system. :D

Yup, doctors make mistakes. So when Scientologists and others point out that there is a lot of abuse of medications, they're right.

Of course, valid medicine seeks knowledge through a process of experimentation and critical analysis, a process by which errors can be detected and corrected. A religion or cult rejects that process at various levels, simply accepting arbitrary propositions, most of which sound crazy on their face, and maintaining that those propositions are not and should not be subject to rational examiniation.

And, of course, the practice of medicine is an art in the sense that it is the application of principles to particular cases: what's the treatment that will most likely bring about the best health results for this flesh-and-blood individual with all his/her symptoms, biological and psychological particulars, and the like.

Of course, I find the best way to avoid all of these questions is simply not to get sick, but I haven't quite figured out how to do that yet! :D

If people go public with nonsense it can quickly be exposed as such. But within a cult it can do horrible damage privately if you will. The danger is the cult itself and people being in cults, less so the nonsense per se. Tom Cruise fired his very competent publicist, giving his sister the job, then revealed himself as an idiot bouncing on Oprah's couch and making sweeping generalizations about psychiatry. His career has yet to recover.

--Brant

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fascinating article, Ed.

A lot of my work now is looking at the anatomy and even biological/evolutionary basis of beliefs, of how our minds inform our inferences and how education and training might discipline us to deal with tihs situation. There's a lot of work needed in this area.

Can you tell us more about what this work entails? Sounds really interesting.

MSK –I haven’t read Diana Hsieh’s post other than what you quote here. But it is interesting to look at cases of individuals whose minds seem to combine subjective outbursts, personal malice, rationalization, and sometimes reason in pursuit of truth on certain matters.

Diana really seems to have it in for you. What did you do to her, Ed -- turn down her invitation to dance last time she went to a TOS seminar? :devil:

Judith

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Judith!

The Diana Hsieh case is interesting. We were on good terms when she was a Cato intern. She was pleased when I opened the DC TAS office. I’d have friendly talks with her at Summer Seminars (no dances, I’m not into that!); I remember a good conversation in particular on a topic she was to speak about: redemption.

Before she broke with TAS, she emailed me concerns about several of my op-eds. I wrote in 2003 that “Christmas commemorates the birth of a child whom many see as manifesting the highest aspirations of the human spirit. But what exactly does the birth of a child, any child, manifest?”

Reflecting on my family experiences, I described babies growing into responsible adults with their own children. I then wrote, “Our physical development is accompanied by the growth in the capacities -- some would call them divine sparks -- in us that make us truly human.” I then gave a secular, Objectivist description of what a mature adult really is.

She apparently thought I was cow-towing too much to religion. I wrote her that thought it was a beautiful little piece that did not contradict Objectivist principles and, in fact, explained them well. But I accept that everyone won’t like my approach in any give piece and maybe sometimes my approach isn't the best. That’s fine. And I’ve taken on religion many times since then.

She also questioned me about using the term, I believe, natural law, which has a long historical pedigree.

When she posted her “break” with TAS discussion on her blog, I posted a measured and courteous response. The nastiest thing I said was that I thought the dramatic way she announced her break was sort of “silly.” One of her allies, Don Watkins, posted that I should not even be considered human.

Folks occasionally send me stuff from her blog indicating that she has dumped on me from time to time in the years since. What’s notable is that she doesn’t just express an intellectual disagreement. She exhibits the kind of personal contentious and malevolence that would suggest that either I had done her some personal injury or that I’d done something morally reprehensible.

We might simply put this down as an isolated case of a personality with serious problems except that this sort of behavior has been a perennial problem in Objectivist circles. I could give other examples of individuals treating intellectual differences as if they were serious moral failings and responding in emotional, irrational, and malicious ways, making the differences into personal vendettas.

This sort of behavior results, in part, from a very serious misunderstanding and application of Objectivist moral principles, characterized particularly by dropping the full context. This is one of the problems that David Kelley wanted to deal with when he founded our organization and that shows the crucial importance of benevolence, whether you consider it a cardinal Objectivist virtue or not.

Fortunately, ARI under Yaron Brook as gotten away from a lot of this silliness. But this behavior still persists among many and seriously holds back the spread of Objectivism.

The Diana case is only somewhat tangential to my work on biological/evolutionary basis of beliefs and, more widely, human behavior. Our beliefs and actions come from a variety of sources. From our critical thinking and reasoning. From our actions that form habits that, for better or worse, can affect our thinking. From our culture and the explicit and implicit lessons that they inculcate in us about right and wrong; moral and immoral; reasonable and unreasonable. From our emotional capacities and tendencies that are biologically-based.

More serious thinking is needed about the relationships between all of these factors and how they interact. Such an understanding will give us a better guide for how to govern ourselves. It could help us devise ways to train and discipline ourselves and our children. And it might help us to develop strategies for how to deal with and change the irrational and malevolent aspects of our culture and, perhaps, even particular individuals.

We as Objectivists often think that if others will just listen to reason, they’d see the truth. The problem is that many people don’t. While they are morally culpable for their evasions, there still remains the practical question of how we might change people for the better.

We also have the problem of individuals who hold sound beliefs and have a critical and rational approach in some matters and, therefore, allow these facts to somehow justify irrationality in other areas. I learned much of my Aristotle and philosophy of science from excellent Catholic priest professors. Great in some areas; not so great in others.

One insight that grows in importance as I explore these issues is need for an objective perspective. How can we make certain we don’t fall into the pathologies found the Diana types?

It’s really exciting work and I hope later in the year to have something publishable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
We as Objectivists often think that if others will just listen to reason, they’d see the truth. The problem is that many people don’t. While they are morally culpable for their evasions, there still remains the practical question of how we might change people for the better.

The problem here is the word "truth" because there is no such thing - there are only degrees of correspondence or, as we say in general semantics, similarity of structure. If we encounter someone who refuses to change their beliefs in spite of overwhelming evidence we do not make it into a moral issue but rather a sanity issue. This diffuses the animosity which 'taking the moral high ground' seems to promote.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

GS,

Of course truth exists. Why is there a constant need to preach that it doesn't?

The word "truth" means something specific in the way Kelley and Hudgins (and I) use it, which apparently is not the same meaning you understand, and the concept did not come into human cognition as an act of silliness.

It really would would help if we talk about the same things before preaching something like that as a critique.

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
GS,

Of course truth exists. Why is there a constant need to preach that it doesn't?

The word "truth" means something specific in the way Kelley and Hudgins (and I) use it, which apparently is not the same meaning you understand, and the concept did not come into human cognition as an act of silliness.

It really would would help if we talk about the same things before preaching something like that as a critique.

Michael

I don't doubt that you believe in "truth" that applies to all people at all times but that does not make it so. Any statement can be argued against. If you accept that absolute "truth" exists then that amounts to a priori knowledge which is the same as religion. If something is the "truth" then it can never be modified because modifying it would make it not true.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

GS,

Your comments are not correct, insinuate the incorrect things, and/or bear meanings other than the ones used in Objectivism. It gets tiring to see you use a meaning for a word that is not used by the person you critique and try to say it disproves the person when you didn't even address the meaning he did use. It boils down to nothing but semantics with misguided presumptuousness.

Even going by your standards, "I am alive when I write this" is a true statement for all people for all time. Split hairs on that fact if you want, but the reality of it won't change just because you use jargon from another school of thought.

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't doubt that you believe in "truth" that applies to all people at all times but that does not make it so. Any statement can be argued against. If you accept that absolute "truth" exists then that amounts to a priori knowledge which is the same as religion. If something is the "truth" then it can never be modified because modifying it would make it not true.

Not so. The statement "I am in Plainsboro N.J. visiting my grandchildren" was true last night but it is not true at this moment. I am at home in Monroe Twp. N.J. in front of my computer. That previous statement is true at 07:30 EST on Jan 27 2009.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...