Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."

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Count me in! (Can an outsider be an insider?)


One of the great old malapropistic Jewish movie producers -- I just Googled and it's Sam Goldwyn, no tantrum required -- said,

"Include me out!"

I think that's the perfect locution here!

michael reynolds

It's interesting to see this from your perspective. You're sort of between the thunder and the mockery. True believers forever proclaiming and denouncing, and my side, the atheists, sneering and ridiculing.

But I would say, speaking only for myself, that I have a lot less difficulty with spiritual seekers than I do with the true believers. I will absolutely take a potshot at "you people," but never with anything like the malice I hold for the true believers.

From my perspective atheists are not an opposing religion, we're just the scientists who don't see proof, or a jury that doesn't see sufficient evidence. I'm perfectly open to just about anything, up to and including Jehovah, but I set a certain standard of proof, and if the proof is lacking my hands are tied. From my point of view it's not my fault that there's no evidence. And people wishing to convert or convince me have only to produce proof -- when they fail, that's not my fault.

I think it's also fair to say that at least for me there is no active "search" under way. I may just have a genetic or hereditary predisposition to be happy . I don't wake up in the morning sensing a spiritual void, I wake up and think: 1) coffee, 2) what should I work on, and 3) what's going on in the world? (I suspect that someone like our mutual blog buddy Chris Hallquist is different in that regard -- not unhappy, but actively questing in the philosophical realm.) My imagination is engaged by ideas, but ideas that have to do with understanding the material and social world around me.

Now, reading this comment back I am aware that no matter how I try, I can't entirely keep a certain condescension out of my "voice." It's nothing anyone could prove in court, but a smart readers senses it. (Hmmm.) It's interesting, because I admire your writing, I have deep respect for the way you're handling your life, I like you to the extent I know you, I enjoy your blog immensely, but there is a sort of "atheist accent" that creeps in, a smugness, a cold, bemused detachment, that must annoy the hell out of people. Of course, access to that voice is one of the benefits of being an atheist.

But, setting that aside, "my people" are not hostile to "your people," because your people are still trying to understand the world. We may not approve of the direction you take, or the language you use, or the standards you apply, but to me you are a world apart from the people who think they already know everything. Your minds are working, their minds are dead.


I may just have a genetic or hereditary predisposition to be happy.

O lucky man.

The difference between us is really a matter of emphasis. We may be beguiled by the possibility that there's something more going on than random collisions of matter, but we can't prove there is, any more than you can prove there isn't.

I read the last "God or Not" carnival, on Faith, and I was surprised by what had happened to my ears. The "Not" people at least sounded like they were looking and thinking. The "God" people sounded lifeless to me, as if they were parroting. At best, they were reasoning deductively rather than inductively -- they started from a fixed set of assumptions and then proceeded to try to make the world fit it. I really wasn't looking for that; I expected to be equally impressed by the thinking on both sides.

Maybe that just means they need submissions from better "God" thinkers. Seth Chalmer is one, and consistently finds others, from Abraham Joshua Heschel on down.

I forget if it was Seth who found it, but I absolutely loved this post from (yes, that's the Lubavitchers!). Read it all the way to the end. You'll agree with most of it, excepting the central, to the writer, concept of G-d. Substitute the word "Good" and you could probably agree wholeheartedly.



There is evidence for super-natural levels of reality (and even theoretical support in mainstream physics).

There are tons of evidence for mind over matter, but scientific atheists will not consider it.

But the most convincing evidence comes from direct personal experiences that people in all times and places have always had.

It may be that mystical sensitivity varies greatly between individuals, and depends on personality type. You may be a down-to-earth ISTJ, or something like that. For those of us who are mystically sensitive, scientific atheism makes no sense at all.

So to each his/her own. There may never be understanding between personality types. But I do wish scientific atheists would educate themselves about parapsychology, and also the incomprehensible weirdness of physics. I think I first became a new-ager in the 1970s when I read "The Tao of Physics." I was walking past a bookstore and the book seemed to yell out "hey, read me, I will change your life!"


But of course a lot of other books and experiences contributed. "A New Science of Life" by Sheldrake was the best New Science book I ever read.


And one more thing, please don't think all my opinions are based on reading only new-age stuff. I also read lots of books by atheist scientists, and got a formal education in cognitive science. I never had any interest in fooling myself.



I remember realizing that Sheldrake's theory of morphogenetic fields could explain, or help to explain, animal domestication. Among many other things, such as the power of repeated ritual.



I would suggest three foundational nomadic principles.

(1) The current traditions, while perhaps useful for some people in either connecting with the divine or in providing a moral compass, are insufficient for the future. They fracture humanity into warring groups, are intellectually inflexible (and often implausible), and are tailored to a bygone era.

(2) Even so, we sincerely believe that there exists a greater reality that transcends current science and that can be directly experienced.

(3) We believe in the objective reality of ethics.

While, of course, we want to remain respectful of our detractors, we need to be firm, though not fanatical, on our points of disagreement with them -- otherwise we just get wishy-washed out to sea.

Finally, our discipline in many ways goes back to antiquity in pre-Christian times, where the nature of the divine was an open question debated by philosophers.
So we actually have a distinguished philosophical lineage -- it's just that with the ascendancy of Christianity and Islam, orthodoxy -- which really wasn't at all an issue in pagan times -- attempted to remove certain questions from philosophical debate. We're just attempting to return to some very healthy pre-Christian roots.


While I have had extended debates with you in the past, sometimes under this screen name, sometimes under others, I very much understand where you're coming from. And I think you outline a very good stance for atheists to take. A lot of atheists seem to go overboard on attempting to "prove" that God doesn't exist. Your approach asks, "Where's the beef?" and shifts the burden back on them.

Here's a mini-apology for the nomad to the skeptic. Not so much to "convert" the atheist, but hopefully to reduce the "flake-factor" of the nomad.
First, would you grant that it is at least possible that there is some sort of transcendent reality (not a God)?

If so, and this must of necessity appear somewhat flaky, a large portion of nomads believe that they have directly experienced this higher reality. They have an intuition for the existence of a higher reality.

Now, is this belief rational? Well, if by rational, you mean believing only those things for which there is hard evidence, I'll agree that spiritual experience is not hard evidence, but should at least count for something to whom those experiences occur. (now, you'll probably claim that spiritual experience is not evidence at all -- but we'll have to disagree here)

But if rational is to be construed as making the wisest choice for a particular person, then believing in a higher reality may be sensible for some people. You may accept lower standards of evidence, if you're trying to avoid what may be the snake in the grass. Likewise, someone who's a nomad may not want to miss out on a possible higher reality. It makes their life better, it opens their mind to new possibilities, so why not?

I think of the nomad vs. skeptic in terms of the famous painting by Raphael, "The School of Athens," where Plato is pointing towards the heavens and Aristotle to the earth. Aristotle basically thought his teacher was a bit of a flake, and Plato (if he had known Aristotle in his later years) would have thought Aristotle deadened to higher realities.

So it's kind of an ancient temperamental clash, at least imo. I think society benefits from having people who always ask, "Where's the beef?" AND from the people who are willing to take a more expansive position vis a vis reality and the possible. But at least both of us would make Aquinas sit in the corner with a dunce hat :) (But with our traditionalist friends we might put Dawkins in that same corner.)

To sum up, skeptics are interested in the probable, nomads in the possible.

I think you'll always see a bit of the flake in us, and we always a bit of the obstreperous spoil-sport in you. And that's okay.


"I remember realizing that Sheldrake's theory of morphogenetic fields could explain, or help to explain, animal domestication. Among many other things, such as the power of repeated ritual."

Yes, it could help to explain all kinds of mysteries.


Or to attempt to retake the rational high ground from the skeptics, one could say that while the data has rendered current traditions untenable, it would be quite premature to declare the triumph of a mechanistic materialism as all the data is not yet in, and the explorations of science do not appear to be coming to an end.

Instead, our assumptions seem to challenged at every turn.

Thus, from this standpoint, the nomadic POV is not the most flaky, but rather the most rigorously rational. It is characterized by a decided openness to new facts and to unconventional theories, whereas, a skeptic leans the other way. In the end, the best nomad will be a hard-nosed flake -- believing that there is much yet to come, even radical amazing things, but painstakingly and parsimoniously evaluating the data as it comes in.


"A hard-nosed flake!" Oh, how I wish I could make that my title!

"Tailored to a bygone era" is, as you know, one of my biggest, almost involuntary objections to tradition. I certainly think we should know our history, but tradition's motto almost seems to be, "Those who know history ARE condemned to repeat it"!

"Can be directly experienced" is a very important point, and so is "the objective reality of ethics." Thank you for formulating this so clearly, Eustochius.

As for the danger of wishy-washiness, not a worry. Note that I don't even have to attack traditionalists for some of them to attack me and accuse me of attacking them. I guess I must have that same little ineradicable snark in my tone of voice that Michael cops to. Have you read the post on "Opposite Day" at Jewish Atheist? I should write a post as a defender of tradition.


After some thought, I came to realize it is not so much tradition that I dislike as it is that I feel that the current traditions are insufficient and incorrect. Just as I don't reject scientific theory in general, but may reject a particular one.

Second, it's more that they don't allow for broad and foundational change -- you can't easily break with the past in a modern physics vs. classical physics way. Rather they seem to back themselves in a corner where little change is possible -- if you build infallible doctrine upon infallible doctrine, you've lost any wiggle room, to say nothing of true and fundamental re-evaluation.

So I don't oppose a "new" tradition, just as I don't oppose a new and comprehensive scientific paradigm, I just think it's time for the world to realize that the old religious paradigms do not work (or at least are seriously incomplete) and that we're perhaps in an interim period. Of course, I would like any "new" tradition to incorporate the possibility for serious change within it as well as the tentativeness of its claims.

Traditionalists need to grasp that their traditions are more established ways of connecting with the divine than accurate maps of the divine realm. IOW, traditions should be valued more from a pragmatic than epistemic standpoint.

"a hard-nosed flake"

Glad you liked it ;) Most of the descriptors of my thinking has these oxymorons built-in.

"opposite day"

Great concept to foster dialogue, but I think it would be better if the person who wrote it would then explain why they reject the reasoning they just outlined.

"on wishy-washiness"

It's not you per se that I'm concered about, though your friendliness does sometimes disturb me :)

It's just seems to be a general trend in liberal religion to be so lovey-duvey that you get steam-rolled by those with more "zeal." I say we need zeal and strength of convictions. Unlike the Christians, the Buddhists had great missionary zeal (but didn't kill anyone in the process), so there's such a thing as healthy zeal. [readers, pay no mind to my gratuitous anti-christian remark, i have a devilish temperament]

It's not so much "stealing sheep" from the traditionalists and the atheists, as it is defending our views, and letting those who have ears to hear, hear. We need to energize the base and bring in new recruits!

I think our pitch is actually quite simple and attractive for it is based on five things:
(1)the divine exists
(2)the divine is truly good -- and in a meaningful way (no, God's wisdom demands eternal hellfire)
(3)many of the previous theories of the divine are bunk
(4) unlike what many will tell you, the divine could care less about the theological details. Eat pork, reject God's Only Son, refuse to honor God's prophet, you're okay. Honest mistake if you're wrong. The point of Jesus/Mohammed/dietary restrictions etc. was to make humanity's life better, not to have some excuse for eternal damnation!

[i think fear has a lot to do with keeping some in a tradition -- pull the hellfire/turncoat card on potential "escapees" We have come to liberate the captives.]

Enuf bloviating for now. Best wishes.

michael reynolds


You're right, I don't try to disprove the existence of God. And I am open to any number of surprises about the universe. I'd be disappointed if it turned out the Judeo-Christian God was real because I think it's kind of a boring idea. (Remember there was this huge hype build-up about the transportation technology that would change everything -- then it turned out to be the Segway? It would be like that.) I'm hoping if I live to see a real wow! moment of revelation it won't just be some tired Father figure in the sky, but something really neat. I don't want a Segway, I want to get shot through a black hole.

I can construct an argument for why it might be nice for people to believe in God (although not for myself) but I can't come up with any evidence that it's real. I think it would be nice if I believed I was attractive to hot 20 year olds, but since the evidence is lacking, I have to let go of what would be nice to believe, and content myself with the belief that women of a certain age find me vaguely charming.

You're right: it's an old conflict. I instinctively dislike the idea of reaching for beliefs, of trying to stretch reality to conform to my desires. I'm a phenomenologist -- I want as clear-eyed a view as possible, a mind as devoid of presupposition as possible, I want to see only what is really there.


I'd be disappointed if it turned out the Judeo-Christian God was real because I think it's kind of a boring idea.

Me too. And I'd be pretty scared as well.

I instinctively dislike the idea of reaching for beliefs, of trying to stretch reality to conform to my desires.

But, you see, it feels very natural (and intellectually honest) to the nomad to believe in something higher. At least, for me personally, it would feel dishonest to deny the existence of something transcendent in light of my experiences.

Let's say an argument was devised that purported to show that the external world did not exist. Even if you found the argument logically compelling, wouldn't you have a gut reaction against it? That somehow the argument was flawed even if you couldn't put your finger on it.

Likewise, to the nomad, the spiritual seems very real, and as I said, it feels dishonest to deny the existence of something higher. You don't need to understand the details of visual physiology to see something before one's eyes. (Technically speaking, to justify believing what you saw before your own eyes, you WOULD need good reason to think that that data was reliable and probably WOULD need some understanding of visual physiology to justify it.) But is the person who believes what is before his own eyes irrational unless he goes through a long philosophical exercise? To you, the divine seems implausible [and I agree that the western god IS implausible and I personally am an atheist in terms of that God] and thus you want hard proof. For others, they're more inclined to trust their own experiences. Does that make them irrational? I think it just makes them different. (actually, the hard-core skeptic is likely the different one, in terms of statistics, but sheer numbers don't make right . . .)

To me, what would be irrational would be to act as if those experiences guaranteed a whole elaborate theology. But most nomads exercise epistemic caution in this area [at least they ought to].

The problem here I think is that personal experience is not intersubjective. I can't show you what experiences I've had. Somehow I feel if, say, Theresa of Avila could transfer an intense mystical experience to you, I think you might have the reaction, "Oh so that's what you're talking about. I now understand why you think the way you do."

At a fundamental level, I think most people just make philosophical assumptions based on intuition -- such as say the reliability of induction (which Hume showed [or attempted to show] was just a habit of mind), or the existence of the eternal world. It's hard to refute Berkeley's notion that matter doesn't really exist. Most of us kind of feel that kicking that stone will do the trick, but it really doesn't.

So let's assume that someone believes that a higher realm exists and that one can experience it. In light of this, someone experiences what they consider a higher realm and considers their beliefs confirmed. But it's a bit circular. But so is believing in induction or the external world, to an extent.

In the end, I think we both agree that the scientific evidence will tell the story. I am leery of anyone who says that something will permanently transcend science. I feel that if something exists, it must either be detectable or its effects must be detectable (eventually).

In the meantime, I can understand that you don't want to stretch the facts to fit your ideas. But all I can say is that nomads feel the same way. We just don't feel we're stretching the data. We recognize that our experiences are not conclusive, but we're extrapolating from the data we have. We feel that you're turning off some of your "detection" instruments, but we're turning all of of them on, even the less reliable ones. We too feel that we're attempting to see what's really there. You're saying, "Why are you using that crappy instrument. You can't trust it!" We're saying, "If you don't turn it on, you could be missing some of the best stuff!" (these "instruments" being personal experience, intuition, etc.)

I think we just disagree as to what counts as evidence. I tend to factor in personal experience, modern physics, and tantalizing new discoveries. So it seems intellectually honest to me to say well the evidence is unclear, so I'll cast my lot with the mystics. It's more fun that way.

I see the evidence as mixed. Some evidence says maybe yes, other maybe not. But you tend to say there's no evidence at all whatsoever. I dunno if it's semantics or temperament or what, but I don't see things that way. And as I said, that's okay.


How Berkeleyan "The Matrix" is! (Which is why I hated it!)

A China Teapot

"Atheists, meanwhile, have joined forces across the blogosphere...." how I laughed to see myself reflected in this paragraph. Can't wait to get my hands on the new Dennett book, but the latest Susan Blackmore book is filing the gap very nicely.

I have always been the permanent outsider, though herding cats is difficult, it's a lot more fun than herding sheep!!

I have always been an atheist, so have been very fortunate that my "no" has always had the very strong "YES!" of science and the natural world.

Wil Cone

Michael Reynolds said, "I want to see only what is really there."

Good luck! ;-)

I consider myself an open-minded agnostic believer...and over the years, I've come to the conclusion that a statement such as "I want to see only what is really there," while frequently presented as an instantiation of the reasonable/ rational/ clinical/ detached/ objective point-of-view, is really just a representation of yet another subjective of many philosophical/metaphysical belief systems (no better, no worse, just different). And while this "objectivist~materialist" POV is held by many scientists (but certainly not all), many of its tenets have been contradicted by the findings of science itself. Is light really a particle or a wave? If we know the velocity of a given particle, what is its momentum? Is Schrödinger's cat really dead or really alive? Etc.

So once again, I wish you luck in finding what is really there!

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