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Branden believes in the supernatural

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While trying to make a decision on Objectivism, I read many different authors and their claims about Objectivism. I read most of the works by Branden and his writings on his web-site. In his later material he actually hints toward some of this stuff. When I came to my own conclusions about Objectivism, I discarded his writings and others like him.

I think that either Dr. Locke or Dr. Hull talk about this stuff in one of their lecture courses. I would have to listen to it again to be precise on which lecture and who gave it.

I would like to follow up with my first paragraph by stating what I did above actually slowed down my understanding of Objectivism and would not advise that direction. I wasted months thinking over issues, that Ayn Rand and other Objectivist authors explain.

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I would like to follow up with my first paragraph by stating what I did above actually slowed down my understanding of Objectivism and would not advise that direction.  I wasted months thinking over issues, that Ayn Rand and other Objectivist authors explain.

I'll have to disagree with you here. I say, "take all the time you need!" I don't want somebody to simply agree with Ayn Rand and never think on their own. The movement doesn't need another period of "cult-ish-ness". Personally, I never take Ayn Rand's word for something to heart until I can come up with my own argument for (or against) it on my own.

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It's hard to know what to make of this since the blog doesn't say what Branden actually said. "Admitted some belief in" is extremely vague; he could have said something like "I talked to a fortune teller yesterday."

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I would like to follow up with my first paragraph by stating what I did above actually slowed down my understanding of Objectivism and would not advise that direction.  I wasted months thinking over issues, that Ayn Rand and other Objectivist authors explain.

I would like to second this. My "time with the Brandens" did nothing but confuse me further and keep me away from a happier life. There's no need in poisoning your thought-especially so early on. I'd much rather a person have the "Branden redlight" and stay clear away of anything related to them, as opposed to the person who reads their works and becomes confused/lost. Time is too precious to live an unhealthy life; make the best of what you have now.

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I'll have to disagree with you here. I say, "take all the time you need!" I don't want somebody to simply agree with Ayn Rand and never think on their own. The movement doesn't need another period of "cult-ish-ness". Personally, I never take Ayn Rand's word for something to heart until I can come up with my own argument for (or against) it on my own.

Nicolaus,

I am not saying to have faith in what Objectivist say. What I was trying to say and maybe did not make clear enough is; While I was trying to understand Objectivism, reading and trying to integrate two contradictory points on the same subject was not at all helpful. Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is fully integrated which is what makes it so amazing. While the others have illogical ideas that can never be integrated

I can only re-state what Ayn Rand has said many times, "Check your premise". This is what I did many times to come to where I am at.

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It's hard to know what to make of this since the blog doesn't say what Branden actually said.  "Admitted some belief in" is extremely vague; he could have said something like "I talked to a fortune teller yesterday."

Here's what Branden wrote on a Kelleyite list (the Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy) 12 years ago. His expressed views on ESP are in RED.

Date:    Tue Aug 17, 1993 10:32 am  PDT

Subject:  Reflections

                  Reflections  that  may  be  of  interest  to  the

moderated discussion forum:

        At any point in history people have a general view of reality

that  is  commonly  regarded  as "reasonable."    There  is  a  shared

paradigm through which the world is interpreted and understood.  When

data show up that do not fit the paradigm, they are typically  ignored

or treated as unreal.  People who argue for the significance of  this

are  sometimes referred to as "irrational" or "mystics,"  since  they

seem  to be departing from current notions of the rational.  At  some

point, so much data of this kind accumulates that it no longer can  be

ignored, a new model of the universe is generated and the society  now

operates  with  a new paradigm--what was previously regarded  as  non-

existent  or  irrational  now  becomes understood  as  both  real  and

"reasonable."

        We  have  seen several such paradigm shifts during  the  past

2000 years, as any student of the history of science knows.

        At  any point, there is a tendency to confuse "reason" (as  a

process) with contemporary notions of the "reasonable."  But in fact,

one can dispute current beliefs about the "reasonable" without in  any

way disputing or departing from reason as a process, although  getting

one's contemporaries to understand this is not easy.

        Objectivists are hardly exempt from this tendency to  confuse

reason with contemporary notions of the reasonable, as I discussed  in

"Judgment  Day."    Watch this forum: you'll see examples  of  what  I

mean.

        For  Objectivists,  no  one  is  ever  misguided  or  simply

mistaken.    Opponents  are  always "irrational"  gr! even  "mystics."

Objectivists tend to use "mystic" like communists in the thirties  use

"fascist"--to brand anyone who disagrees with them.  Rand herself set

the pattern for this, unfortunately.

        If, for example, one even suggests that there is some  pretty

impressive evidence accumulating for the reality of non-ordinary forms

of perception (forms that do not fit contemporary paradigms), count on

many  Objectivists  to howl "Mystic!" or  "Irrationalist!"  or  "Whim-

worshiper!"--all  the  old  Objectivist  cliches  when  dealing  with

"enemies."

        Folks,  if we want to be genuine advocates of  reason,  we've

got to rethink this practice.  I wish I had understood this 30 or  40

years  ago.    I promise you, fifty years from now what  is  called  a

"reasonable" view of the universe is going to look very different from

the  view we call "reasonable" today.  This is not--let me  emphasize

this--an  invalidation of reason; not at all; it is reason  that  will

lead  the  way to the new and improved world view.  But it  would  be

foolish  vanity to imagine that we will see and understand this  right

from  the beginning.  No, some of us will brand the bringers  of  the

new  world view as "mystics." And the truth is, mysticism will  have

nothing to do with it.

        As sure as I'm writing this, someone on this list will  write

something like "I never expected Nathaniel Branden to embrace all this

New  Age  craziness!"    Why?    Because that  is  the  way  too  many

"students  of Objectivism" will process my above  remarks...which,  in

reality, have nothing to do with "New Age craziness."  (I am NOT a New

Ager.)

        Or  they will say, "I never expected Branden to come out  for

extra-sensory  perception."  Read this article again.  I never  said

that, either.

        I doubt that I will have time to answer, but your feedback to

these thoughts will be read with interest and respect.

                            Nathaniel Branden

        Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D

        The Branden Institute for Self-Esteem

        P.O. 2609  Beverly Hills, Calif. 90213

        Telephone 310/274-6361  Fax 310/271-6808

        73117.607@CompuServe.COM

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I would like to follow up with my first paragraph by stating what I did above actually slowed down my understanding of Objectivism and would not advise that direction.  I wasted months thinking over issues, that Ayn Rand and other Objectivist authors explain.

There was a time when the biographies by the Branden gang were the only available ones. To newbies, looking to learn more about the "real" Ayn Rand, that was tantalizing. Yet it was precisely the value-seeking orientation that the Brandens counted on to sell their books, and the ignorance of newbies to con them.

That's not the case any longer. I've long held a very low opinion of the pair, and it has sunk even further as I've read through The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. Let anyone who thinks either of them have something positive to offer read through the middle third of the book to see just how corrupt and vile they are.

Also, the Brandens' writing style is a mess, with vague descriptions of feelings and hints of innuendo used in the place of verifiable facts, events and dates. That is true of both biographies as well as Mr. Branden's later psychology books. It is a jumble of vague, foggy, floating abstractions rather than incisive logic.

Reader beware.

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Concerning the first part of Nathaniel Branden's statement, quoted by Betsy Speicher: he got it from Thomas Kuhn (and he should say so). Those are not original ideas.

Concerning the latter part: he didn't get it from Ayn Rand. Why not just say "knowledge is contextual, and knowledgeable students of Objectivism know it"?

RJM

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Thanks for the MDOP quote, Betsy. I had forgotten about that. I'll have to add it as an update to my recent blog post (reprinted below) on why this news ought not come as a surprise.

http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/2005/07/bro...ked-for-it.html

Mike Shapiro shares "highlights" from the Summer Seminar of The Not-Really Objectivist Center, including this news tidbit: "Duncan Scott interviewed Nathaniel Branden, who admitted some belief in ESP and the supernatural, much to the raised-eyebrow dismay of the audience."

Nathaniel Branden's explicit embrace of such hokey mysticism should hardly come as a surprise to those familiar with his work: he's been dropping not-so-subtle hints for years. Let's consider a few examples.

In his 1984 article "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand," Branden criticized Ayn Rand for dismissing claims to psychic powers:

Like many other people, [Ayn Rand] was enormously opposed to any consideration of the possible validity of telepathy, ESP, or other psi phenomenon. The evidence that was accumulating to suggest that there was something here at least worthy of serious scientific study did not interest her; she did not feel any obligation to look into the subject; she was convinced it was all a fraud. It did not fit her model of reality. When an astronaut attempted during a flight to the moon to conduct a telepathic experiment, she commented on the effort with scorn--even the attempt to explore the subject was contemptible in her opinion. Now I have no wish to argue, in this context, for or against the reality of nonordinary forms of awareness or any other related phenomenon. That is not my point. My point is the extent to which she had a closed mind on the subject, with no interest in discovering for herself why so many distinguished scientists had become convinced that such matters are eminently worthy of study.

In some sense, Ayn Rand surely did dismiss such psychic claims on the grounds that they failed to "fit her model of reality." She understood that arbitrary flights of fancy should not be granted the dignity of "possible." She grasped the difference between genuine science and pseudo-science. She identified the primacy of existence as a fundamental principle of metaphysics. She rejected the alternative -- the primacy of consciousness -- in all its forms.

Of course, Branden intends his "model of reality" comment to be taken in a wholly different way. He's obviously reproaching Rand for stubbornly refusing to consider the facts due to ideological blindness. But is that fair? As a general rule, we have clear and ample evidence that Ayn Rand accepted or rejected ideas on the basis of her commitment to rational understanding of the facts, not blind ideology. Without that commitment, Objectivism would be a radically different philosophy, to say the least. Yet Branden offers us no reason to think otherwise in the case of psychic claims.

Consider, for example, the laughable absurdity of Branden's astronaut-cum-psychic example. Did NASA scientists have any rational reason to think that failed tests of psychic power on earth would yield different results in space? Is the theory that the earth somehow suppresses telepathic waves? Do the planets and stars exert a more powerful force upon a person's life if he is closer to them? Branden does not bother to explain the logic of such an experiment, even though it is hardly apparent. Nor does he offer any hint as to the "accumulating" evidence about psychic phenomena. Nor does he name any of the "many distinguished scientists ... convinced that such matters are eminently worthy of study" (!). Such vague claims are impossible to pin down, let alone refute. They are wholly arbitrary, to be dismissed without consideration -- not cited as evidence that Ayn Rand was blinded by her own ideology. (Of course, it's quite fitting that Nathaniel Branden indulges in the arbitrary in the course of criticizing Ayn Rand for refusing to do so!)

(As a side note: Given Branden's loaded description of Ayn Rand's "closed mind" and so forth, it's worth noting that Robert Efron reviewed a book entitled ESP: A Scientific Evaluation by C.E.M. Hansel in the March 1967 issue of The Objectivist.)

Branden's criticisms of Ayn Rand on this matter are clearly baseless, if not absurd. Of course, he does not here directly advocate mysticism by championing the transcendent reality of the supernatural. (He is far too subtle for that!) Indeed, he even cautions that he has "no wish to argue, in this context, for or against the reality of nonordinary forms of awareness or any other related phenomenon." That agnosticism is certainly consistent with Branden's reluctance to name any particulars to support his assertion that psychic claims warrant scientific study.

Nonetheless, Branden's declared agnosticism is telling, in a slightly subtle way. When a man as knowledgeable of the Objectivist view of the absolutism of reason and reality is willing to wallow in the arbitrary for the sake of considering the possibility of the paranormal, it's pretty darn clear that he's well on his way to outright advocacy. He's just testing the waters, perhaps in his own mind, but more likely in the minds of his readers. So it's not surprising that he's now progressed to that more advanced stage of outright advocacy. I expect that he will become even bolder in his claims with time, provided that he's not reincarnated as a bat before then. (My apologies to bats, of course!)

A more recent example of Nathaniel Branden's arbitrary agnosticism about the supernatural is also worth mentioning. In a Navigator article on death and dying, he is quoted as saying the following about an afterlife: "What happens? Well, I really don't know, do I? But I'm inclined to believe it's pure non-existence."

Again, does Branden have any evidence to believe that death is not "pure non-existence"? Of course not. Evidence is beside the point! He's just "inclined"!

Notably, this indulgence in the arbitrary has clear and significant ethical implications: If the alternative to life is not just the non-existence of death, then the choice to live could not be the fundamental choice that gives rise to all values. The Objectivist ethics would be dead in the water, killed by groundless skepticism. (Then again, it were true that "we are all of us organisms trying to survive," as Branden claims in the "Benefits and Hazards" article, then the Objectivist ethics would be just as dead from the determinism of psychological egoism. Really, wasn't The Big Lesson learned by Dagny in Atlas Shrugged precisely that not all people pursue life?!?)

I can't resist mentioning that Nathaniel Branden's indulgence in the arbitrary on this matter is spectacularly outdone by his former wife, Barbara Branden, who is quoted in the same article as saying:

I would love to believe in reincarnation, so I could come back and live again and again and again, as long as it was as a human being like myself. But since there are so many contradictions in the idea of reincarnation, I suppose I'll have to do without it. And I would love to believe in an afterlife, so that I would once again be with the people I love who have died. But apparently I'll have to do without that, too. Yet, since energy is not destroyed, perhaps one's soul is not utterly destroyed; perhaps it continues to exist in some form; it is so wondrous a possession that it seems wasteful of reality to allow the soul to cease to exist. But that would be of no use to me unless the form in which it continues to exist remains myself. So perhaps the best answer is, 'Who knows?'

I love that "wasteful of reality" bit. I couldn't make that up in a million years.

Consistent with his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality, Nathaniel Branden has on occasion clearly denied any indulgence in mysticism over the years. Consider this exchange from a 1996 Full Context interview:

Q: Then the rumors are false that Nathaniel Branden has been flirting with mysticism?

Branden: Yes, they're false. Also the rumors that I have become a convert to God, altruism, and flying saucers.

Q: Why do you suppose such rumors started?

Branden: Perhaps because of what I've just said about Ayn not knowing much about mysticism. Or perhaps because in my lectures and writings I talk about the importance of kindness and benevolence in human relationships. Or perhaps because, in light of how much Branden hurt Ayn Rand, why wouldn't he believe in flying saucers?

Oh, what fearless honesty! Of course, if Nathaniel Branden were actually fearlessly honest, I'm sure that he would attempt to win James Randi's Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. Sure, it might be hard to "show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event." But if he has reason to believe in ESP and the supernatural, then that seems like easier way to make some money than to write yet another rehashed book on self-esteem. Then again, maybe Self-Esteem for Dogs will be a big hit!

Sarcasm aside, I'm sure that Nathaniel Branden's explicit rejection of the most fundamental principles of the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology will not endanger his position as a prominent speaker at future TOC Summer Seminars. After all, his cheaply disingenuous attacks upon Objectivism in the "Benefits and Hazards" article didn't prevent David from inviting him in years past. Yes, David Kelley's standards really are that low, particularly for a big draw like Nathaniel Branden. (In 2003, I was told by a TOC staffer that Nathaniel Branden's absence substantially lowered the turnout. If I recall correctly, they actually lost money on the seminar that year, about $30,000.)

I hope that perhaps a few TOC supporters are disturbed by the thought that such monetary concerns would trump basic moral principles of association, such that David Kelley would sell out Objectivism for a few extra donor dollars. Although dismay is certainly in order, surprise is not. After all, Kelley boldly announced his policy of "weigh[ing] the costs of association against the possible gains" in each case way back in "A Question of Sanction."

The fruit of that harvest of pragmatism was rotten all along. Now it's just starting to stink.

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Concerning the first part of Nathaniel Branden's statement, quoted by Betsy Speicher: he got it from Thomas Kuhn (and he should say so).  Those are not original ideas.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

More importantly, it represents in this context nothing more than an empty argument designed to disarm anyone who opposes some unsupported idea. So, in this case it becomes, "Oh, you oppose ESP merely because it is not part of our current paradigm. But you wait, in 50 years it will be and then you'll be sorry." Note what's missing - a sound argument for ESP. What replaces it is the attempt to manipulate you via the accusation that you are close-minded or dogmatic. Thus you are supposed to accept *anything* on the grounds that it *might be true* or that you can't *disprove it*. The burden thus gets dishonestly shifted to you when the burden should be on *he who asserts the positive* - in this case, providing evidence for ESP.

This btw is a very, very common approach of the Branden/Kelly crowd thrown at ARI supporters.

A good example of it was provided just yesterday on Diana Hsieh's blog. Someone asked her, "Diana: do you know ANYBODY in ARI who defends the Brandens? And if somebody decided to defend them, how would they be treated by the ARI leadership?" Note what's missing here. Why *should* anyone defend the Brandens? That's replaced with an empty and insulting accusation of dogmatism and close-mindedness just as Branden does above. Why not ask, "Diana: do you know ANYBODY in ARI who defends Benedict Arnold? And if somebody decided to defend him, how would they be treated by the ARI leadership?" Or how about, "Diana: do you know ANYBODY in ARI who defends astrology? And if somebody decided to defend it, how would they be treated by the ARI leadership?" etc. etc.

(On the other hand, who knows, maybe in 50 years we'll have a new paradigm and Benedict Arnold will be regarded as a hero because it will have been concluded that the American Revolution was a mistake and we should have stayed a British colony. I actually heard someone say that on some TV documentary because he declared, "If we had stayed a British colony, we'd have socialized medicine." Objectivists should stay open-minded to such possibilities.)

Fred Weiss

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Sarcasm aside, I'm sure that Nathaniel Branden's explicit rejection of the most fundamental principles of the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology will not endanger his position as a prominent speaker at future TOC Summer Seminars.  After all, his cheaply disingenuous attacks upon Objectivism in the "Benefits and Hazards" article didn't prevent David from inviting him in years past.  Yes, David Kelley's standards really are that low, particularly for a big draw like Nathaniel Branden.  (In 2003, I was told by a TOC staffer that Nathaniel Branden's absence substantially lowered the turnout.  If I recall correctly, they actually lost money on the seminar that year, about $30,000.)

In 1998, I asked Kelley by e-mail why he insisted on inviting Branden to speak at the Summer Seminars, while losing the support of quite a few prominent Objectivists, and creating friction within IOS between pro- and anti- Branden members. He responded that a great number of attendees had indicated that they wanted to hear Branden speak and he was simply fulfilling their request.

Of course, once Branden was invited initially, his supporters were drawn to the Summer Seminars, and the more he was invited, the more they swarmed IOS/TOC.

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In 1998, I asked Kelley by e-mail why he insisted on inviting Branden to speak at the Summer Seminars, while losing the support of quite a few prominent Objectivists, and creating friction within IOS between pro- and anti- Branden members. He responded that a great number of attendees had indicated that they wanted to hear Branden speak and he was simply fulfilling their request.

Of course, once Branden was invited initially, his supporters were drawn to the Summer Seminars, and the more he was invited, the more they swarmed IOS/TOC.

And the more they alienated those who valued Ayn Rand.

This is what I expected. Because of the logic and justice of reality, morality seeks its own level. As I often say, "In the long run, you get the kind of friends and the kind of enemies you deserve."

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Hello All,

I read "Benefits and Hazards" years ago and was very dissapointed. Just like "Judgement Day," it seemed to me like a man's explicit admissions of his own pscychological problems. "Psychology of Self-Esteem" is still one of my favorite books of all time, and it's sad to see that its author has become a disturbed, grumpy old man :)

--Dan Edge

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