Over 2 weeks later it’s still being remarked upon in the internet fan forums about just how similar in theme were the final episodes of 2 of the biggest TV dramas of the past few years, Ashes to Ashes (21 May) and Lost (24 May).
The Life On Mars/Ashes to Ashes story arcs ended with ‘rough diamond’/’Neanderthal throwback’ [take your pick!] DCI Gene Hunt revealed to be a Christ-like figure living in purgatory to work with the souls of dead coppers to help them accept their untimely demise and move on to the afterlife proper. Hunt even got to fend off the devil-like Discipline & Complaints investigator Jim Keats’ attempts to steal the dead coppers’ souls.
Truth to tell, I wasn’t much impressed with the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ finale, ruminating that the purgatory explanation was something of a cop-out, saving the writers from having to come up with some kind of science fiction story of alternate realities/dimension shifts/etc, etc.
But - blow me! - just a few days later a near-identical theme was acted out in ‘Lost’s’ 2.5-hour grand finale. This time around it was Jack Shephard being Christ-like to save the island from the darkness brought on by the devil-like ‘Man in Black’ (possessing the body of the deceased John Locke); and it was Jack’s dad, Christian Shephard, who, in a rather God-the-Father way, explained to his bemused son why their purgatory was necessary. After this they and the other main characters in the story opened their funeral home doors to walk into the light.
The supernatural/religious imagery particularly struck a chord with me because I’ve been supporting a (very sceptical!) A-Level Psychology tutee studying Anomalistic Psychology.
Who would have thought, in this supposedly late Modernist age grasping for the Post-Modern, a very traditional religious concept would have been used twice in the same month as a denouement for a major drama series?!?
Certainly we’ve seen some pretty ‘magick’ type stuff delivered in programmes like Doctor Who but it’s always been presented as aliens at work with technology advanced way beyond our ken. In the past 2-3 years that programme’s makers have even used the ‘timey-wimey’ shorthand to tell us it’s science beyond our understanding and, therefore, not to even bother trying to understand. But at least it’s always been given the sheen of ‘science’. With Ashes to Ashes and Lost, we seem to have encountered some variant form of very traditional religion. (Purgatory is a concept largely limited to Roman Catholics, the Orthodox Church and High Anglicans in Christianity; but Judaism and Islam also make use of the idea.)
Certainly both finales have caused major controversies amongst the 2 sets of fans. Many seem confused and/or angry; but just as many seem to be quite comfortable with this use of the purgatory concept.
So how come purgatory’s got a place in our late Modernist age…and how can programme makers get away with using it in the way discussed above?
Belief in the Paranormal
Well, for starters a Fox News poll in 2004 found that 92% of Americans believed in God, 85% in Heaven and 82% in miracles. Belief in the devil had gone up from 63% (1997) to 71%. 34% of Americans both believed in ghosts and UFOS, 29% took Astrology very seriously, 25% believed in reincarnation and 24% in witches (Blanton, 2004). Only a year later David Moore got some rather similar results: 41% of Americans believed in extra-sensory perception, 37% in ghosts, 25% in telepathy and Astrology, 21% in communication with the dead and 20% in reincarnation. Back in 1997 Susan Blackmore found 59% of 6238 Britons surveyed believed in the paranormal. You can usually knock some pretty large holes in such surveys - methodological flaws, personality biases in the participants, etc - but cumulatively they build up a picture: an overwhelming number of citizens in the most technologically-advanced country on the planet believe in the supernatural - and a very sizeable minority believe in the ‘wookie stuff’.
So maybe we in the West don’t live in such a science-dominated world as we might like to delude ourselves? Maybe most of our fellow-citizens are Pre-Modernist thinkers? Or maybe it’s nothing like that simple.
How is it we rely upon and use science for everything from water purification to putting probes into deep space yet we believe in God, for which - whom? – there may be logical argument but no validated scientific evidence and, at least some of us, ghosts, for which there is not even much of a logical argument?!?
The answer, I posit, is on the Spiral. In historical terms, the development of the PURPLE vMEME predates the development of rational thought. Interviewed by Jessica Roemischer (2002), Don Beck describes PURPLE thinking as “animistic…and mystical”. As an example, Beck says: “…if the moon is full and the cow dies, the PURPLE mind connects the two events, one causing the other.” He dates the first beginnings of PURPLE to the Ice Age.
So the system which drives us to attain security by belonging is very primitive, indeed. The PURPLE mind in Beck’s analogy cannot achieve security if it cannot understand why the cow died. By attributing the cause of death to the full moon, Beck’s ‘PURPLE mind’ can now take steps – such as worship and/or sacrifice – to appease the moon and hopefully save other cows from a similar fate.
Modern people are, of course, little like such primitive ancestors but the PURPLE mind is still with us. It’s strong in little children and their attachments to their parents - and do little children like magic and fairly tales? Do they??? PURPLE is there in romantic attachment – and do lovers use mystical terminology like ‘soulmate’ and talk of ‘unending love’? Do they??? It’s there when we anthropomorphise our pets – and do we ascribe human-like personalities to our cats and dogs and rabbits as though they have somehow crossed the species barrier and magically become like us? Do we??? Well, a lot of us do, anyway. (I certainly do - “Hello, Artemis Rice-Cat!”)
Hasn’t belief in the supernatural waned in the Modernist era?
Usually PURPLE doesn’t dominate in our selfplexes quite the way it did with our primitive ancestors for a number of reasons. One of these is that other vMEMES have emerged in a hierarchy of complexity.
The so-called ‘Spiral balloon’ graphic – designed by Don Beck and a registered trademark of NVC Inc - brilliantly captures the idea that, as a more complex vMEME emerges to dominate in our selfplex, the less complex ones do not disappear. They remain there in the background, unlikely to cause much trouble until their needs aren’t being met or the circumstances (‘Life Conditions’) predicate a different way of thinking, thus requiring a different vMEME to dominate in our selfplex. It was Abraham Maslow (1943), with his Hierarchy of Needs, who established the principle that, when a lower level of need isn’t being met, then focus has to shift downwards to that less complex level to sort out the problem.
So PURPLE and its relationship to the mystical has never gone away in the ‘Developed World’ - it’s just not always been that obvious as other vMEMES have dominated in the cultural milieu.
Looking at things historically again, as BLUE has emerged so there has been a codifying and documentation of PURPLE’s mystical experiences and traditions, leading eventually to the structures of organised religions. Gradually from the time of Galileo Galilei in the West and accelerated dramatically by the advent of Evolutionary Theory, science has eaten into the credibility of PURPLE’s supernatural experiences and the PURPLE-BLUE memeplex of organised religion. However, fervent adherence to religion has never gone away – just ask the fundamentalist Christians in the ‘Deep South’ of the United States or those in South America or sub-Saharan Africa. And we all know about the world-wide raft of problems resulting from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism!
Nonetheless, for a while at least, the BLUE-ORANGE vMEME harmonic of ‘scientific rationalism’ seemed to have religion on the run in the Western world.
More recently that ‘progress’ seems to have been set back by the rise of Post-Modernism and the increasing influence of GREEN. This vMEME, of course, treats all ideas as being of equal worth - providing ideas don’t undermine the equality and worth of others. Thus, racism is out but pluralism is in. GREEN doesn’t get on too well with the traditional PURPLE-BLUE religions since their prescriptiveness ‘limits the human spirit’, tends to discriminate on grounds of such factors as gender and sexuality and often promotes status hierarchies. However, GREEN is quite happy to pull ideas from the traditional religions and incorporate them into the wooliness of some PURPLE-GREEN ‘New Age’ ‘spirituality’.
GREEN has effectively started to rehabilitate the concept of the supernatural in the Western world. You’re no longer automatically brain dead if you believe in some kind of divine being and/or would like to go to Heaven in the ‘afterlife’.
Given the RED and ORANGE drivers behind commercialism, it should be no surprise that corporations have started putting spiritual concepts into whatever it is they could sell. Ashes to Ashes helps to sell the TV licence fee to an increasingly-truculent viewing audience in the UK. Lost sells advertising - reputedly $900,000 for 30 seconds during its finale.
So, RED and ORANGE, in the space created by GREEN’s egalitarianism, are plundering traditional religious ideas, to manipulate PURPLE’s need for mysticism-as-explanation. Because Ashes to Ashes and Lost have been such hugely successful TV shows and continually stretched the science fiction element so that it eventually mutated into outright fantasy, they became near-perfect vehicles in the 21st Century for promoting GREEN’s take on PURPLE-BLUE traditions to millions.
It would have been interesting to have done a Fox News poll a week prior to the 2 finales and then followed it up a week later to see if there had been a general increase in ‘belief’.
What’s happened to science?
So where is science in all this?
The contemporary version of science (at least, in the West) is largely derived from the application of a strictly BLUE methodology by ORANGE’s meme of progress/technological advancement. Science claims to be objective, to be founded on empiricism. In other words, where’s the evidence? If a claim can’t be supported by the weight of empirical evidence, then it can’t be considered ‘scientific’. Let’s face it: it’s much easier for a rational thinker to trust a claim if the weight of evidence supports it, rather than simply believe something because a logical argument leads to such a conclusion - the philosophical approach. History is littered with logical conclusions which have been overturned by empirical evidence. Perhaps the most famous overturned piece of logic was the belief that the earth was flat which only started to be effectively undermined around 330 BC when Aristotle provided observational evidence for the earth being spherical.
But, of course, science is limited by its own paradigms. If it doesn’t have the means to investigate something - such as whether there is something called ‘God’ - then it has nothing to say about the subject other than claims that God exists are not ‘scientific’.
How then are we to make sense of those things such as religious/supernatural/paranormal experiences if science can’t explain them? In the vacuum of a scientific explanation, BLUE thinking will attempt the rational, logical route. PURPLE is more likely to accept a religious/spiritual/paranormal explanation. (It really requires 2nd Tier thinking to accept paradoxes and to live with the uncertainty of not knowing.)
So, in its quest for the equality of all non-toxic ideas, GREEN has made PURPLE’s love of mysticism equal to the PURPLE-BLUE structures of organised religion and the BLUE-ORANGE rational-materialism of science…while GREEN itself has fostered new forms of PURPLE-GREEN (New Age) mysticism. RED and ORANGE have then used such ideas - eg: purgatory, but not quite as a Roman Catholic theologian would know it - to make money via the likes of Ashes to Ashes and Lost.
To some extent the scientific establishment limit the credibility of scientific endeavour in the eyes of a multi-vMEME public by demonstrating bias in terms of what is accepted within ‘scientific circles’. Thus, Maslow’s Hierarchy, the most widely-used psychological model outside of academia – in business, social work, education, etc – is increasingly junked in revised academic curriculums because Maslow didn’t use the ‘scientific method’ in the approved manner. Numerous attempts to dump Sigmund Freud’s grand Psychoanalytic Theory have only been prevented by the sheer ongoing importance of Freud’s work and the advocacy of neuroscientists like Mark Solms (2000) that, based on empirical evidence, there does seem to be a biological basis for at least some core elements of Freudian theory.
Paul Feyeraband (1975) was an early commentator on the bias in the acceptance of work in scientific circles, stating that who-shouts-loudest was often more important than the quality of their research.
Jon & Juliana Freeman’s 2008 book, ‘God’s Ecology & The Dawkins Challenge’, does a great job of debunking objectivity in so-called scientism. As an example of bias, they cite the work of Cleve Backster. By using a polygraph measuring galvanic skin resistance in their leaves, Backster demonstrated repeatedly that plants seemed to be sentient in response to various environmental stimuli. In spite of Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird (1973) drawing attention to Backster’s work, it has been resolutely ignored by the scientific establishment at large.
So there are deep and serious issues in what it is claimed science actually is and how it works. While the disservice done to Backster’s work is relatively unknown, more public controversies over scientific claims (such as the exposure earlier this year that Phil Jones at the University of East Anglia covered up flaws in data on climate change) do huge damage to science’s claim to be based only on empirical evidence.
If the credibility of science is undermined by the scientists themselves, then this only serves to support GREEN’s position that science is no more important than mysticism.
Interestingly, Jon Freeman is positioning himself to propose a 2nd Tier view of what science is, with ‘God’s Ecology’ being the first step in that process. It will be more than a little interesting to see how this approach develops because he, like Ken Wilber (2000), sees no dichotomy between science and spirituality,
Gender differences in belief in the paranormal.
Before concluding this Blog, it’s perhaps important to note that, when you break down some of the figures I quoted earlier, some interesting gender differences can be noted.
Eg: the Fox News survey found that women are more likely than men to believe in almost all topics asked about in the poll, including 12% more likely to believe in miracles and 8% more likely to believe in heaven. The one significant exception is 39% of men accepting the existence of UFOs, compared to only 30% of women. The notion of a significant gender difference on these issues is supported by the Blackmore study I referenced which found that 70% of her female respondents believed in the paranormal but only 48% of males.
I’ve often heard it said by believers that women are more ‘sensitive’. Could there be a more scientific/psychological explanation for this?
Stuart Vyse (1997) attributes such gender differences to locus of control. People with a high internal locus of control believe that events result primarily from their own behaviour and actions. Those with a high external locus of control believe that powerful others, fate or chance primarily determine events.
Vyse states that in childhood and early adolescence boys and girls do not differ much in locus of control; but in college and late adolescence onwards women begin to display a greater external locus of control than men and, thus, are more susceptible to superstitious and paranormal belief.
Jullian B Rotter (1966), who developed the locus of control concept, had some evidence that the tendency to display more or less of an internal or external locus was innate. If such a tendency can be categorised as a personality trait, then it can be linked to one of Hans Eysenck’s Dimensions of Temperament (1967, 1976). The dimension which most reflects gender differences is Psychoticism - attributed in great part to the male sex hormone, testosterone. At the high (male) end, someone high in Psychotocism would be impulsive, compulsive and assertive of their own needs and desires. At the low (female) end, sometimes referred to as Impulse Control, people can be indecisive and servile to the point of abasement. Thus, we can say someone high in Psychoticism (male) is likely to display a strong internal locus of control while someone low in Psychocticism (female) is likely to display a strong external locus.
Such an explanation may go a long way towards explaining gender differences in belief in the paranormal; but it’s important to note that not all men are loaded to the gills with testosterone and are, therefore, highly psychoticist; nor are all women very low in testosterone. So there may be many variations in biological predications to an internal or external locus - but then not all women are believers in the paranormal and not all men are skeptics.
Then there is the role of socialisation which undoubtedly contributes to the development of an individual’s tendency to locus of control but has been used also to explain gender differences concerning the extent of paranormal beliefs. Angela Phillips (1995) has drawn attention to the way boys are raised to find and express themselves by standing alone, appearing strong, being independent and proving themselves through competition (supporting an internal locus). By contrast, girls are encouraged to develop relationships and gain affiliative skills (external locus). According to Phillips, girls spend hours practising emotional skills while boys expend their energies on mastering physical ‘doing’ skills. Lynn Schofield Clark (2005) is just one researcher who has noted the degree of effect of popular culture on teenagers. She particularly correlates New Age beliefs and being a female teenager.
Here we may also have to consider a vMEMETIC influence. Jenny Wade (1996) has put forward the view that there is a masculine (hot colours preference) and feminine (cool colours preference) in the way people ascend the Spiral, peaking with males mostly missing out GREEN on their way to 2nd Tier and females mostly missing out ORANGE. This might tie in with the locus of control/Psychoticism approach to how males and females view the world and it would fit with Vyse’s observation that females show much more of an external locus than men from the late teens on - as you would not normally expect ORANGE and GREEN to be strong in the selfplex, if present at all, until at least mid-teens.
(However, it does need to be said that Wade has yet to put forward substantive evidence for her assertions while Don Beck has expressed some strong reservations about the idea some men don’t really have GREEN and some women don’t really experience ORANGE.)
To return to the original premise of this Blog, maybe, when I wrote earlier that “it would have been interesting to have done a Fox News poll a week prior to the 2 finales and then followed it up a week later to see if there had been a general increase in ‘belief’,” such a poll should have also looked for gender differences…?