Monday, June 18, 2007

From the pamphlet A Member's Eye View of Alcoholics Anonymous

There must come a day, it seems to me, when every alcoholic, in or out of A.A., finally sits down in the presence of his enemies. When he does, he will be amazed to discover that he is attending a meeting of one - himself. The day the alcoholic in A.A. realizes that his enemy is within, that the tigers are largely creatures of his own design and lurk in his own unconscious, that is the day when for him A.A. becomes what I believe its founders meant it to be: a flight into reality.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Science versus Spirituality

I heard someone share the other night that science could only make a drug that will make you throw up if you drink or a drug that would dampen your high. Because of this, the AA member concluded that the "spiritual" program would always be needed to help alcohol addicts in their recovery. I believe this is a "straw man" that trivializes or "absurdifies" an opponent's position, in order to trounce the opponent with one's superior logic. Current epigenomic studies – through use of methyls and histones – may provide the basis for completely nullifying the genes that create problem drinking. In such case, AA may find itself in a crisis of relevance. Only blind organizational loyalty would denounce a real cure for alcoholism that does not involve AA literature or practice.

However, it may suprise you that science is a "spiritual" way of life. It requires great discipline, courage, and humility of spirit. It is no accident that many of the great scientists began as religious devotees. (E.g., Copernicus, Newton, Mendel, Darwin.)


Science requires its devotees to maintain a state of pragmatic disbelief. Every theory about how things are is maintained as a working hypothesis. These theories may be beloved to the devotee because of time spent working these theories out, but the devotee must always be willing to discard pet theories when they cease accounting for observed phenomena. The devotee is prohibited from saying "This is the case," but is only permitted to say "This seems the case," or "This accounts for all observed phenomena to date."


Science is concerned with understanding the nature of how things behave. Things include people, souls, ghosts, myths, bigotry, fraud, and all the goings-on in a human brain. Nietzsche suggested that all science is revenge against the past. How do we prevent another Hurricane Katrina catastrophe? How do we "don't get fooled again"? Science has developed a highly tuned sense of description that seeks to prevent ambiguity and arguments that are untestable. Science uses the discipline of logic to search for inconsistencies and to weed them out. It's not that science has removed inconsistencies – only that science is aware of them and is disturbed by them. The current state of physics involves a search to reconcile the inconsistent theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. These two sets of understanding both work amazingly well in their area of inquiry, but they cannot both be true. Science knows this, does not deny this, but science seeks to find a theory that can account for both sets of phenomena. The disciplined mind does not settle for fuzzy definitions and theories that are so loose that they are virtually trivialisms. The disciplined mind searches for a theory and then proceeds to knock it down.

If you meet Buddha on the road... kill him.


The devotee is required both to work on creating theories, fleshing them out, and then attacking them. Science tries to eat its young. This reminds me of an ancient Israelite custom of taking in the Passover lamb and raising it as a pet the year before its sacrifice. The family doted over the lamb, the children would sleep with it, but on Passover, the family would take its pet to be slaughtered. A scientist must do the same with the theories that the scientist slaves over. Once a satisfying theory is found, the theory must be tested and retested. Every time the theory withstands the test, the scientist is elated. But each time, the scientist must brace for the theory's collapse.


The scientist, above all, respects reality. To the scientist, reality consists of all observations by anyone at anytime. Some observations are already couched in the terms of a discounted theory, (e.g., a "sunrise") but the scientist must explain the observations of ghosts, unicorns, the flatness of the earth, and any other description of events – honest or not. But just because a scientist must account for such described observations does not mean that the scientist has to accept the observer's explanation of the observation. The scientist must attempt to fit the observation into other tried and trusted tropes of explanation.


We recovering alcohol addicts have found techniques and "gimmicks" that seem to have helped us overcome our cravings. Some of these techniques have been tested in repeated settings and are found to help a certain group of drunks in certain situations. But we must also take pains to recognize and account for the times when these techniques fail. We must catalog them and search for alternative techniques to treat these program-resistant drunks. If AA really holds that service helps to keep one sober, then AA will have to move out of the drunk's way when the drunk isn't helped by AA's literature or program. Intellectual humility and courage demand that we widen AA's scope.