Mod+ 262. WILL STORR ON THE ENEMIES OF SCIENCE

#41
Personally I thought that this was one of the most measured and interesting interviews of the series. I found Storr very reasonable to be honest, much more so than many of the other guests both pro and skep.
 
#42

262. Will Storr on the Enemies of Science


Alex Tsakiris of Skeptiko interviews author and journalist Will Storr on science, the scientific method and why we believe what we believe.
all indications are that he's a charlatan who made all that stuff up.
Alex, I contacted Carlos Alvarado and Nancy Zingrone and asked them whether they agree to be interviewed together - and they agreed! Sending you the information via private message! :D
 
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#43
The only problem with that, is that I feel that my views have moved massively from those I had in my youth - both in science and in politics. I am sure I am typical of a lot of Skeptiko folk.

I am also conscious of various points in my life when my previous belief in something began to crack. For example, there was the morning when I was in the bathroom and the radio was on. One item of the news was explaining that a large collection of emails between climate change scientists had been 'hacked' and was now stored in WikiLeaks. I felt a sudden sense of unreality - why would an organisation that stores evidence of torture in Iraq and billion dollar bank frauds really care about the minutiae of climate science?

Another occasion was when I saw a documentary about the paranormal, and a sceptical scientist (I can't remember who) said,"There is no scientific evidence for paranormal phenomena!". I felt the only reasonable interpretation of that statement, was that there were no peer reviewed papers that claimed evidence for paranormal phenomena. I knew that was false, and I instantly realised that this was more of a propaganda campaign - intended to mislead the average viewer - than dispassionate science.

David
Hi David

I do not contend we come to this world with views or opinions...
Rather we bring a soul age or character which is like a backdrop or athmosphere or an essence; not a concrete thing; and not anything mental or thought like.
Views and opinions come and go and change throughout life as we grow and learn and experience. All of that depends on circumstances of culture and family etc. Our human self, the person we live as, is not our true or spiritual self. It is a product of the interaction of our soul or spiritual self, and the biological human creature we live as.
 
#44
I think it's more complicated. I think a lot of folks find themselves in Will position... at the edge of the crevice, but unable to make the jump.
Sometimes there are good reasons for that ...

Macello Truzzi was a founder of CSICOP who left because he felt the organization was not assessing claims objectively. When he was confronted with his own successful remote viewing attempt he said:

http://monkeywah.typepad.com/paranormalia/2014/09/the-in-betweeners.html
There was a moment of silence as we both sat there remembering this experience. Then Marcello said, "I am much more effective and influential as a reasonable skeptic than as a convert." We never discussed it again.
 
#45
How do I check myself?

Well you could probably write a book just on that, and I imagine some philosophers already have to great extent. How do we know what we know? When and how do we draw the line between believable and crazy? And how to be tolerant of those who are intolerant of our own conception of reality?

Is scientific methodology the only exclusive way we can obtain reliable knowledge regarding reality? And how did we come to that assumption in the first place? Where in fact, does the rationality we use in science, where does that rationality arise? The rationality that created the scientific methodology in the first place? How did it arise? How did consciousness arise? What is consciousness?

These are deep epistemological philosophical subjects that have been grappled with by all kinds of thinkers/philosophers even scientists for centuries, no, not just centuries, but epochs!

But then you get this new declaration by an authority figure within the new reigning reductive materialistic paradigm: Neil deGrasse Tyson, where he recently made a stupefying statement that "philosophy is dead"! How can most of us, with a reasonable amount of knowledge and intelligence not react to this statement with intellectual horror and disgust?

So ...

I am not going to write a book here to answer the question "How do I check myself?" Since I agree with Will Storr that we all are indeed biased and fall victim to our biases in even an unconscious manner (Thus why Carl Jung and the other psychoanalysts stressed the importance of coming to grips with one's own unconscious material, and recognize and attempt to eliminate the kind of projections we do all the time.)

I try to check myself by deciding when a certain amount of anger is appropriate, especially if real damage is being done to other people. I do believe that in many cases, you have no choice but to take a very strong and vigorous stand regarding what you believe. For example, the German Nazis had an ideology that they believed in, and they followed through with their ideology and caused enormous suffering and harm to millions. Should those who were alive back then, simply have been more tolerant of the Nazi party, because perhaps, just perhaps their ideology might have been true? Or that we should simply be tolerant of all ideas in the world, regardless of what we deem as their truth or falsity?

So this "How do I check myself?" Does not exist in some kind of absolute vacuum. Perhaps contextuality is important as well. For example, many people who claim they believe in a God, including Muslims, go about their lives each day, believing in what I would think is the most bizarre customs and ideas regarding reality and the possible transcendent. Should I go out of my way to squash their beliefs based on what MIGHT happen based on the beliefs they hold? Even though in my mind, some of their beliefs really are absurd?

How does one determine to take action against a model of reality, ideology, and when does one refrain, and tolerate other points of view? It cannot be an absolute determination because human experience is a complex, contextual laden affair. All types of judgements are based on a multitude of different kinds of reasoning and awareness and subjective experiences. EVEN science is based on the subjective determination of many humans, who have collectively observed data, or used reason to collect data through reasoned processes and accepted methods (such as computers) - but in the end, all of it still rests on conscious judgement and reason, which IS fallible.

If I were to ask "How do I check myself?" every time I attempted to walk 20 feet across the floor, on every step, if in fact, I were conscious of all the activities that are required on an unconscious level for me to actually walk 20 feet, I would likely not even be able to get started. So first "How do I check myself?" Is that at some point, yes, I do make the decision TO check myself or NOT check myself. And I suppose I do it with various levels of my own intellectual reasoning abilities, my ability to recall knowledge, and also, the trustworthiness of the sources from which I obtain my knowledge. I guess that is why it is often so important for those who oppose your particular "knowledge set" to tear down the people who you believe are knowledgeable, and to do so in the most scurrilous and despicable fashion (such as what Rupert Sheldrake or Russell Targ have been exposed to on Wikipedia). Is this necessary? I suppose it appears necessary to the Michael Shermer's and Neil Tyson's of the world, since philosophy is now dead!

I suspect the dialogue and heated debates will continue as long as humanity lasts. And perhaps the dialectical is what it's all about. The ying and the yang. The geniuses and the not so geniuses of the intellectual world. And then there is just plain old common sense.
 
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Alex

Administrator
#46
How do I check myself?

Well you could probably write a book just on that, and I imagine some philosophers already have to great extent. How do we know what we know? When and how do we draw the line between believable and crazy? And how to be tolerant of those who are intolerant of our own conception of reality?

Is scientific methodology the only exclusive way we can obtain reliable knowledge regarding reality? And how did we come to that assumption in the first place? Where in fact, does the rationality we use in science, where does that rationality arise? The rationality that created the scientific methodology in the first place? How did it arise? How did consciousness arise? What is consciousness?

These are deep epistemological philosophical subjects that have been grappled with by all kinds of thinkers/philosophers even scientists for centuries, no, not just centuries, but epochs!

But then you get this new declaration by an authority figure within the new reigning reductive materialistic paradigm: Neil deGrasse Tyson, where he recently made a stupefying statement that "philosophy is dead"! How can most of us, with a reasonable amount of knowledge and intelligence not react to this statement with intellectual horror and disgust?

So ...

I am not going to write a book here to answer the question "How do I check myself?" Since I agree with Will Storr that we all are indeed biased and fall victim to our biases in even an unconscious manner (Thus why Carl Jung and the other psychoanalysts stressed the importance of coming to grips with one's own unconscious material, and recognize and attempt to eliminate the kind of projections we do all the time.)

I try to check myself by deciding when a certain amount of anger is appropriate, especially if real damage is being done to other people. I do believe that in many cases, you have no choice but to take a very strong and vigorous stand regarding what you believe. For example, the German Nazis had an ideology that they believed in, and they followed through with their ideology and caused enormous suffering and harm to millions. Should those who were alive back then, simply have been more tolerant of the Nazi party, because perhaps, just perhaps their ideology might have been true? Or that we should simply be tolerant of all ideas in the world, regardless of what we deem as their truth or falsity?

So this "How do I check myself?" Does not exist in some kind of absolute vacuum. Perhaps contextuality is important as well. For example, many people who claim they believe in a God, including Muslims, go about their lives each day, believing in what I would think is the most bizarre customs and ideas regarding reality and the possible transcendent. Should I go out of my way to squash their beliefs based on what MIGHT happen based on the beliefs they hold? Even though in my mind, some of their beliefs really are absurd?

How does one determine to take action against a model of reality, ideology, and when does one refrain, and tolerate other points of view? It cannot be an absolute determination because human experience is a complex, contextual laden affair. All types of judgements are based on a multitude of different kinds of reasoning and awareness and subjective experiences. EVEN science is based on the subjective determination of many humans, who have collectively observed data, or used reason to collect data through reasoned processes and accepted methods (such as computers) - but in the end, all of it still rests on conscious judgement and reason, which IS fallible.

If I were to ask "How do I check myself?" every time I attempted to walk 20 feet across the floor, on every step, if in fact, I were conscious of all the activities that are required on an unconscious level for me to actually walk 20 feet, I would likely not even be able to get started. So first "How do I check myself?" Is that at some point, yes, I do make the decision TO check myself or NOT check myself. And I suppose I do it with various levels of my own intellectual reasoning abilities, my ability to recall knowledge, and also, the trustworthiness of the sources from which I obtain my knowledge. I guess that is why it is often so important for those who oppose your particular "knowledge set" to tear down the people who you believe are knowledgeable, and to do so in the most scurrilous and despicable fashion (such as what Rupert Sheldrake or Russell Targ have been exposed to on Wikipedia). Is this necessary? I suppose it appears necessary to the Michael Shermer's and Neil Tyson's of the world, since philosophy is now dead!

I suspect the dialogue and heated debates will continue as long as humanity lasts. And perhaps the dialectical is what it's all about. The ying and the yang. The geniuses and the not so geniuses of the intellectual world. And then there is just plain old common sense.
thx for this wonderful post. I love your opening questions... more and more questions :)

And, as you mention, there is a lot to pull apart here -- social, religious, spiritual, scientific issues all come into play and have to be balanced. I guess that is what I'm hoping we can do as we go forward with Skeptiko 3.0 :)
 
#49
And, as you mention, there is a lot to pull apart here -- social, religious, spiritual, scientific issues all come into play and have to be balanced.
Perhaps. Yet the idea that balance (in it's usual meaning) is "good" or leads to a more accurate and/or expansive knowledge is itself rooted in the common beliefs that are currently popular. And pursuing it often results in a merry-go-round.
 
#50
I'm glad Will mentioned Jonathan Haidt. In his book The Righteous Mind, Haidt makes a very serious attempt to understand world views like Liberalism and Conservatism, rather than just throwing out the usual caricatures and stereotypes, and George Lakoff did something similar in his book Whose Freedom.

I'd like to see people do the same thing with world views like Materialism, fundamentalist Christianity, Transhumanism, Environmentalism and New Age Spirituality.

If people are as generous and charitable as possible in their interpretations of other people's world views, it's much more likely that they'll be able to have serious discussions together and actually learn something from each other, rather than just talking past each other.

For example, we could define Materialism as the view that there's no love, meaning, purpose, consciousness or freedom and that we're nothing but biological robots in a meaningless universe. Or we could define it as the view that consciousness is real but is produced by the biological brain and exists only as long as the biological brain does. The first definition shuts off conversation, while the second one encourages it. Sadly Skeptiko almost always goes with the first definition.
 
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#51
For example, we could define Materialism as the view that there's no love, meaning, purpose, consciousness or freedom and that we're nothing but biological robots in a meaningless universe. Or we could define it as the view that consciousness is real but is produced by the biological brain and exists only as long as the biological brain does. The first definition shuts off conversation, while the second one encourages it. Sadly Skeptiko almost always goes with the first definition.
Most serious scientific and scholarly research regarding consciousness in the last century has clearly pointed away from the materialist's notion of consciousness as simply a product of the brain. What usually "shuts off conversation" is the ignorance and dogmatism of Skeptics, who normally have little or no knowledge of the numerous empirical and psychological studies published regarding consciousness. The discussion eventually devolves into the Skeptic insisting or denouncing any and all evidentiary material that is provided, and refusing to consider his own rigid, fundamentalist a priori bias.

Of course man's meaning and purpose in life is very much defined by how he conceives his reality and his being. The philosophical question of free will has a direct relation on morality. Man's origin, and man's destiny is crucial to man's sense of purpose and hope. To magically wave some kind of reductive materialist's wand, and pretend all philosophy now is irrelevant to a vacant, nihilistic view of man's place in reality is just another piece of intellectual imbecility, happening to be the new jack-ass orthodoxy of the moment. But this too will pass.

My Best,
Bertha
 
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#52
Most serious scientific and scholarly research regarding consciousness in the last century has clearly pointed away from the materialist's notion of consciousness as simply a product of the brain. What usually "shuts off conversation" is the ignorance and dogmatism of Skeptics, who normally have little or no knowledge of the numerous empirical and psychological studies published regarding consciousness. The discussion eventually devolves into the Skeptic insisting or denouncing any and all evidentiary material that is provided, and refusing to consider his own rigid, fundamentalist a priori bias.

Of course man's meaning and purpose in life is very much defined by how he conceives his reality and his being. The philosophical question of free will has a direct relation on morality. Man's origin, and man's destiny is crucial to man's sense of purpose and hope. To magically wave some kind of reductive materialist's wand, and pretend all philosophy now is irrelevant to a vacant, nihilistic view of man's place in reality is just another piece of intellectual imbecility, happening to be the new jack-ass orthodoxy of the moment. But this too will pass.

My Best,
Bertha
Yes, many materialists are dogmatically committed to the idea that consciousness (and therefore meaning, purpose, love, value etc) is produced by, or emerges from, the brain, and so they refuse even to look at NDEs and Psi. We've seen this kind of dogmatism time and time again.

What I'm saying is, you don't really want to go up to these people and say, "Hey, you guys all think there's no consciousness, love, purpose, meaning or value, and you think we're all just biological robots in a meaningless universe."

First of all, it's a very biased and unfair understanding of materialism, and secondly it will only shut down the conversation.
 
#53
For example, we could define Materialism as the view that there's no love, meaning, purpose, consciousness or freedom and that we're nothing but biological robots in a meaningless universe. Or we could define it as the view that consciousness is real but is produced by the biological brain and exists only as long as the biological brain does.
But those two definitions are far from equivalent.
The latter postulates the assumptions at the core of a materialistic view, while the former describes the consequences of considering materialism as literally true.

In the same way you could define "comunism" as a socioeconomic system structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and characterized by the absence of social classes, money, and the state...

Sounds good, doesn't it? ;)

ETA: It's one thing to neutrally define a philosophical position and it's another thing investigating the consequences of such stance...
 
#54
It's true that most materialists don't understand the consequences of their beliefs and don't want to hear how absurd their beliefs are when viewed in light of those consequences. The fact that they shut down the conversation makes it impossible to communicate with them on that subject. Then what is the point of having a conversation where the other side sets the ground rules? What is the point of talking to "make nice" like you are baby sitting a four year old child? Many materialists are nice people and have a lot of interesting things to say, but there is no point in talking with them about consciousness.

Asserting that consciousness emerges without demonstrating an explanation of how it emerges is begging the question, or, as Nobe Prize winning neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles called promissory materialism: superstition. Materialists don't want to hear that either.

Consciousness cannot be produced by any physical process. How could the changing concentration of ions across the membranes of brain cells produce what the color blue looks like to you? The brain might store data about the wavelength of light falling on the retina, or it might perform calculations on that data, but how could a computational device produce the subjective experience of what a color looks like? Consciousness is fundamentally different from any physical property or process and therefore cannot be produced by the brain.
 
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#55
But those two definitions are far from equivalent.
The latter postulates the assumptions at the core of a materialistic view, while the former describes the consequences of considering materialism as literally true.

In the same way you could define "comunism" as a socioeconomic system structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and characterized by the absence of social classes, money, and the state...

Sounds good, doesn't it? ;)

ETA: It's one thing to neutrally define a philosophical position and it's another thing investigating the consequences of such stance...
It's not true that the first definition follows from the second. The second definition says that consciousness, value, meaning and the rest DO exist, even though they're produced by and cannot exist without a properly functioning brain. The first definition says these things DO NOT exist.
 
#56
Asserting that consciousness emerges without demonstrating an explanation of how it emerges is begging the question, or, as Nobe Prize winning neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles called promissory materialism: superstition. Materialists don't want to hear that either.
Yes, I agree, and this is the philosophical problem at the heart of all this. So rather than telling materialists they don't believe in love, morality and meaning in life, we should be focusing on precisely this question. How is it that a material object can produce first-person subjective experience? It seems absolutely impossible.
 
#57
It's not true that the first definition follows from the second.
I haven't said that.
I simply pointed out that you gave a neutral definition and compared it to a set of consequences, not another definition.

The consequences derived from the definition are clearly subjective, although not necessarily wrong or false.

The second definition says that consciousness, value, meaning and the rest DO exist, even though they're produced by and cannot exist without a properly functioning brain. The first definition says these things DO NOT exist.
Well, according to materialism love, compassion, morality ... ultimately don't exist.
With consciousness being an elaborate illusion and free will the simple unfolding of a deterministic plan, you may probably get a glimpse of why this is ultimately a distressing view.

You can strive to create all the value and meaning you want inside your head but the reality is ... even that is not under your control, if you do it it is only because the molecules in your brain made you do it. Just like a mass murderer has no ultimate guilt, being a pack of neurons with no free agency,

And we're all all writing in here because our atoms are pre-determined to do so...

And now I feel sad... at the realization, but that's an illusion too...

And now I feel silly for believing such nonsense :D
 
#58
I'm glad Will mentioned Jonathan Haidt. In his book The Righteous Mind, Haidt makes a very serious attempt to understand world views like Liberalism and Conservatism, rather than just throwing out the usual caricatures and stereotypes, and George Lakoff did something similar in his book Whose Freedom.

I'd like to see people do the same thing with world views like Materialism, fundamentalist Christianity, Transhumanism, Environmentalism and New Age Spirituality.

If people are as generous and charitable as possible in their interpretations of other people's world views, it's much more likely that they'll be able to have serious discussions together and actually learn something from each other, rather than just talking past each other.

For example, we could define Materialism as the view that there's no love, meaning, purpose, consciousness or freedom and that we're nothing but biological robots in a meaningless universe. Or we could define it as the view that consciousness is real but is produced by the biological brain and exists only as long as the biological brain does. The first definition shuts off conversation, while the second one encourages it. Sadly Skeptiko almost always goes with the first definition.
I agree with Dominic. I am a big fan of Alex and his interviews...and I am not a materialist...but I can also see, or hear, that Alex does not handle materialists well.
In fact he usually ends up insulting and alienating them. His encounter with Patricia Churchland is a classic example. I felt it was a wasted opportunity.
 
#59
I agree with Dominic. I am a big fan of Alex and his interviews...and I am not a materialist...but I can also see, or hear, that Alex does not handle materialists well.
In fact he usually ends up insulting and alienating them. His encounter with Patricia Churchland is a classic example. I felt it was a wasted opportunity.
Alex has been beyond remarkably tolerant with the absolute close-mindedness of the materialists he's had to deal with. If there is one side that has been particularly vicious and publicly militant, it has been the new crowd of atheistic materialistic Skeptics, who have destroyed the biographies of many good people on Wikipedia, and have derided, ridiculed and belittled not only spirituality, but anyone who dares posit consciousness is not a materialistic product of the brain. For me personally, I've had it with attempting any kind of reasonable or rational discussion with four year old intellectuals.

And I imagine after years and years of debate, Alex probably is going to be moving on in some way or another as well. At some point, you have to realize you're dealing with absolutely rigid dogmatists who are far more interested in making sure their materialist dogma stands up - rather than open-minded rationality and reasonable evidence provided to the contrary.

My Best,
Bertha
 
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#60
I agree with Dominic. I am a big fan of Alex and his interviews...and I am not a materialist...but I can also see, or hear, that Alex does not handle materialists well.
In fact he usually ends up insulting and alienating them. His encounter with Patricia Churchland is a classic example. I felt it was a wasted opportunity.
Just like materialists cant handle him well either. They mostly are not out there to discuss with him and find "the truth" or something that is close to that. They want to convince others that they are right. Have to admit though that alex is taking that position aswell sometimes. Even so, its propably not fruitful to do that. I believe a dialog where both sides actually want to find something that is as close to the truth as we can get would be the best. That wont happen though if we try to convince others by disassembling their arguments and opinions and with being arrogant. We should interchange opinions and knowledge instead with a open mind. Obviously it isnt helping that this would be a one-sided process since pretty much everyone heard of materialism/physicalism these days; theres no way to avoid that. But which mainstream-physicalism-science-guy knows about the current psi research?

I imagine pretty much everyone here knows a few materialists and propably proponents aswell that act like arrogant fools. They just want to be right, nothing else. Thats one of the reasons why we have a "proponents vs sceptics" war.
 
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