Saturday, November 17, 2012

A note to To The Best of Our Knowledge


I listen to at least part of your show each Saturday and enjoy especially the challenging subjects you tackle and the eminent guests you talk to.

I would like to share a couple of thoughts, particularly on listening to your interviews with Daniel Levitin and Michael Gazzaniga. 

Mr. Levitin's account of some of the most complex human experiences, those having to do with music, seemed a bit lightweight.  I don’t know if he was going for concision or brevity or dumbing things down a bit.  The brain science he described seemed reductive.  But more unsatisfying was his attempt to account for musical experience, one of the most profound and ineffable phenomena we know of, in terms of physiology, and more broadly from a purely materialist perspective.  His discussion of “Superstition” was so superficial that I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.  (Not to mention the thwacks in “Tell Me Something Good” are from a clavinet, not a guitar.)

Mr. Gazzaniga failed to answer the basic questions posed by the host and by his book’s title.   This is part of a broader difficulty. The topics each week on TTBOOK are tantalizing as are the introductions and questions posed by the hosts.  The question of what consciousness is, where it comes from etc., seems to come up a fair bit, but we always seem to hear the same non-answers.  There is a preponderance of guests on TTBOOK that are really sold on the materialist fallacy.  They sometimes seem like caricatures of the arrogant scientists of yore, the ones who brought us phrenology, DDT, the atom bomb, and the promise of food in pill form.  I’m very ok with hearing from materialists, but I hardly ever hear perspectives from people who at least acknowledge mystery and the problems with materialism, let alone that accept or describe a spiritual reality.

 A vast majority of our species have explained consciousness as proceeding from a spirit or soul that animates the body, and departs with death, leaving the body lifeless.  This concept has never been convincingly challenged.  Other concepts of metaphysics vary greatly from culture to culture and from era to era, but this seems to be almost a universal.

I fear arrogance of any kind.  I also fear purely mechanistic explanations of human individuals or groups.  Obviously the material world is the sphere of science, but I think scientizing such things as consciousness, free will, and aesthetic experience, without at least acknowledging limitations is problematic.


Christian Asplund
Associate Professor
School of Music
Brigham Young University

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Christian Left

The reason I am interested in the Christian Left is because everyone assumes that Christians are all on the right, but I happen to know that's not true. I'm a lefty partially because of my adherence to the moral and social teachings of the
 sermon on the mount, which I think are excellent, challenging and transformative principles, whether or not you think Jesus was divine. And I also know that the evangelical brand of christianity that dominates conservative politics here has a very narrow definition of what a Christian is. My definition is pretty broad. I will confess to some negativity, I suppose because I have watched my adopted home, for which I have a great love, descend into greed, dysfunction, and philistinism in the short few decades that I've lived here. I have also been inspired by the incredible resourcefulness and intelligence of people working from the ground up making the world better and speaking truth to power when they can.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Alan Grayson

I love Alan Grayson's emails.  He's one of the only people that's telling it straight on the national scene.  Here's one I got today:

Last week, one of my opponents put out an ad saying that if I'm elected, then next year, I will triple gas prices, prohibit guns and ammunition, and close down children's lemonade stands. 

I assured him that I would not do any of those things. Nor would I remove the tin foil from his skull. 

That made me think of some more things that I probably won't do next year: 

(1) Institute universal healthcare.
(2) Provide jobs to 20+ million underemployed Americans.
(3) Make pensions and sick leave and paid vacations the norm.
(4) End corporate welfare.
(5) Re-institute progressive taxation.
(6) Provide higher education to every student who wants it.
(7) Take corporate money out of politics.
(8) Purge us of discrimination against minorities, women and gays.
(9) Reduce the brutal, pervasive inequality.
(10) Bring the troops home.

No, I don't think that I'm going to accomplish any of those things next year. But if I'm elected, I'm going to try. I'm sure going to try. 

Dark Night

USA: Collective imbecility: Too many screens and vehicles: Inability to see the most obvious causes and effects = Lack of realization that these many massacres, and other killings that don’t make it into the national news are the result of:
Easy access to weapons that destroy life with the press of a button
yes, a culture of violence mainly propagated by mass/immersive media

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Desperate Emails

I’m getting a lot of desperate emails from the Democratic Party, democratic candidates and progressive groups requesting money and reporting some scary data about outspending by republicans.  It does scare me that they are so scared.  It does seem like the supreme court’s ironically titled “Citizens United” decision has opened the way for a Putin-style power grab by a somewhat unpopular and quite destructive and nasty republican party.  I have probably been dwelling on this theme too much over the past few years.  I love America so much and it is so sad to see everything that is good here squandered in such a sad way.  But here are a few thoughts:

1. The emails I get from the aforementioned liberal voices feel like too little too late.  Democratic politicians have been so consistently weak, even in the face of great advantage and victory, that it is hard to really want to dash to their aid.  I’m just not sure what they are going to do with my money.  Furthermore, I can’t figure out how they can’t defeat a party that blatantly and openly voted to eliminate Medicare two years in a row, not to mention many other things that would seem to be great political gifts.  And once they get elected, they behave even more weakly.  They don’t seem to realize that they do have an effect on the discourse.  If they assent to the whole libertarian hogwash, then all they are to us is pale republicans who have only vestigial concern for the wellbeing of the non-rich, but no will to do anything about it.  “Sure government doesn’t create jobs, but could we use it to create just a few jobs, please?  No, ok, well, could we do a few less bad things, please?”

2. I’m not sure I get the whole republican thing.  What is the end game?  Can anyone tell me?   Is democracy really that loathsome to them?  I don’t see a dictator or strongman behind this whole thing; so it just seems like mass hysteria in the direction of how jerky can we get away with.  But oh how many people are hurt by their policies.  I guess because they’ve set themselves mainly as opposed to anything from the democrats, and the democrats cave so much that the republicans have to be ever nastier and meaner to find anything to decry about the democrats.

It’s all kind of like watching a very slow rockslide or something.  I’ve watched this decline (of both parties, public discourse, the well-being of most Americans) happen for almost 20 years, and I kind of knew what was happening, but at each turn I think the next thing isn’t going to happen.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Hung out with piano virtuoso Keith Kirchoff last week who completely rocked most of my piano pieces last summer in an epic recital and even more epic recording sessions. Here we are up Rock Canyon

After church today I went on a solo hike up said Canyon, further than I think I've been thus far. I finally got to some stream.
 Last summer the stream went all the way down to the parking lot and lasted through July, because of the massive snows, rains and cool spring and early summer temperatures. We went a lot and played in the stream, which is, to me, sublime. I just love streams for some reason. Today I found some stream above where I think it gets piped. I think when there is stream below this; it is overflow from the pipe. There was hardly anyone around. It was quite hot, a Sunday, and the air is really bad from the many wild fires. I was so taken by the quiet, and the beauty of the whole canyon, the rock formations, the vegetation, the fauna. I found a rock to sit on in the stream and watched a small colony of millipedes, and then watched various spiders with webs just above the water. The affinity I felt with the arthropods going about their business in this beautiful, gentle setting. I think it is a human need to connect with our fellow living things in their natural habitat, and to nature in general. Rock Canyon is characterized by many rocks of various sizes. Geological processes, especially folding are very evident. Even the rock seems to have a life force. Today I discussed with a friend who works for FARMS the Liahona, as he had a plastic one like the Arnold Freiburg. I asked him why replicas always look the same. He said that Freiburg set the mold. But then I pointed out that Minerva Teichert has one that's more elegant, that just looks like a large gold ball. Seems more like the stone mentioned in Revelation and D&C (speaking of living rocks).

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Michael Moore assessment

I just got an email from Mr. Moore about the recent Supreme Court decision on the healthcare bill. Why has it taken so long for liberals to realize and articulate this? It's really pathetic because our society and our planet have suffered so much for at least 20 years because of what he is describing, with very little resistance from the left. He describes what he calls the real divide in America: "On that first side are the people who've been fed a diet of fear and lies and hate. And who is feeding them? The 1%. The richest people in the country, the ones who aren't done with us yet because they still don't have enough wealth, have done their best to dumb down the population through destroying our educational system and using media to provide them with a vastly distorted sense of reality. The rich's only obstacle is that they only hold 1% of the votes in the country. So they have to try to get a slim majority of Americans to vote their way. And fear, plus keeping them stupid, usually works."

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Conservative is a misnomer for the current movement in American politics that dates back to 1994 contract with America. Ironically what most characterizes the movement is an embrace of economic libertarianism (which I loathe because it's both stupid and evil, but that's another discussion). It's a fundamentalist version of "liberal" economic policy, i.e. laissez-faire, that we're familiar with from Dickens novels etc. The current version is not conservative at all as it has tried to make big changes in the social contract, getting rid of or privatizing many or most of the public sector. Us hapless liberals are cast as the conservatives, desperately and not very successfully trying to save the institutions (social security, medicare, national parks, public education, foster care, etc.) that the "greatest" and earlier generations built for us. The words liberal and conservative could both be very positive, but political consultants have done a very good job injecting them with venom. I remember reading a survey from around 1960 where a large majority of Americans (including republicans) considered themselves liberal. The same survey was performed a few years ago, and hardly anyone wanted to identify themselves as that.