Monday, April 13, 2009

Superstitions of modern science

Two examples of unquestioned adherence to the 17th century mechanistic assumptions underlying the supposedly modern brain sciences. From Time magazine, "why we're superstitious," in which superstitions are reduced entirely to quirks of brain functioning. And from Newsweek, more on the same, both referring to a book entitled Supersense.

My problem with such efforts is not with the neuroscience, which is undeniably interesting. Rather, I'm worried that the authors of these books, and the journalists who write the articles, haven't bothered to do their homework. For example, the author of Supersense says in response to the question, "What are some examples of things that people believe science will one day explain?"
Telepathy, precognition, anything that involves the mind. Typically they will think that humans have this untapped potential for connecting with each other over large distances, which would violate the current laws of physics as we currently understand them. Of course, they always respond with, "Well, the current laws of physics are always changing, so how can you be so certain that these things aren't real?" Well, we can't prove these things don't exist, but then they never really lay themselves open for scientific investigation. That's why it's really problematic to talk about them as being real science.
Some day, perhaps a young, naive journalist will ask,"Exactly what laws of physics are violated by these beliefs?" And "why can't we study these beliefs?" And "have they in fact been studied?" And "what do the results show?" Four simple, innocent questions, which when answered with empirical evidence in a calm, rational manner, would radically challenge the whole thrust of these books and articles. And that, of course, is why older journalists don't even bother to ask the questions.

11 comments:

Book Surgeon said...

One of the things I find most objectionable about articles like this--and in fact, most highly skeptical communications--is the arrogance and barely-disguised contempt for the great unwashed non-scientists out there, as though we're all malleable idiots who could care one way or the other that a sweater belonged to Jeff Dahmer or Marisa Tomei. It's the same self-superior impulse that makes most conventional researchers regard anecdotal evidence as tainted and worthless, and it's why I still regard the pseudoskeptical movement as fundamentally a self-esteem cult: "We're smarter, clearer-eyed and braver than thou, ye woo-woo English bedwetting types!"

FB said...

"...idiots who could care one way or the other that a sweater belonged to Jeff Dahmer..."

Call me superstitious, but I wouldn't want to wear a sweater that had been worn by a cannibalistic murderer. Psychometric impressions on it might be troublesome to me.

Also, call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think that there is such a thing as class conflict, and the upper classes who own magazines don't *want* the lower classes thinking about taboo subjects. Ergo, I think these articles are calculated suppressions when considered on the broadest level. Of course the journalists who write them are not likely to be conscious conspirators; rather, I suspect they are ignorant scoffers who are chosen because their scoffing happens to be suitable to the task at hand.

The author of Supersense, Hood, on the other hand, is not entirely ignorant. However, he is ignorant of Puthoff and Targ's work when he says: "Typically they will think that humans have this untapped potential for connecting with each other over large distances, which would violate the current laws of physics as we currently understand them."

I would have liked it if the journalists had given equal time to the law enforcers who tracked down Patty Hearst. Alternatively, they could have just cited the part in _Limitless_Mind_ where Pat Price used clairvoyance to track the kidnappers.

sonic said...

Is it superstitious to believe that 'science' can explain anything?

Tor said...

I'm getting tired of these types of books and articles too. Why do many neuroscientists and their adherents have this misplaced confidence that they know how the universe works?

They can't possibly be paying attention to what is and have been going on in physics in recent years.

I think there needs to be a serious effort to educate scientists of the basis on which their science is based. Ok,so we love our reductionistic way of thinking, that's fine. But then one should carry on this reduction down to the basic level and see what comes of it.

This has already been done. It doesn't help much to just brush it all away by putting the words quantum and woo in the same sentence. Deep and profound things are emerging when we poke holes in reality.

There seems to be a huge cleft between the popular science articles that come about after journalists talk with physicists like Anton Zeilinger, Andrei Linde or Paul Davies, and when they talk with neuroscientists. I hope that people notice this and start to ask why?

I also feel that physicists are a bit to blame for this state of affairs. They should just come forward and say it as it is. A few do, but never enough to give a sense of consensus. Basically it isn't that much about what the experimental facts say any more. It's about not wanting to believe the implications of these facts.

Tor

Dean Radin said...

> Why do many neuroscientists and their adherents have this misplaced confidence that they know how the universe works?

Because the imaging tools of the neurosciences are seductive and are reinforced by the mechanistic assumptions of big science.

A nice article on the infectious disease some are calling "neurophilia" can be found on the Seed magazine site:

http://tinyurl.com/d7zefz

anonymous said...

Why do we care that some people don't accept the reality of psi?

There are two parts to this problem 1) people who are not aware of the evidence, 2) people who refuse to accept the evidence as valid.

These parts are interrelated because people don't investigate the evidence because they don't accept it can be valid because they are not aware of the evidence...

To me the biggest issue with disbelief in psi is the lack of government funding for research. I find the subject interesting and want to know as much about it as possible so I wish there was more research being done.

A couple of other reasons I can think of are 1) vindication and recognition for all the researchers and scholars who have spent so much time and effort studying the field and 2) if survival of consciousness is demonstrated I think it would change people's behavior for the better.

Anything else?

Maybe we should stop looking at the high level problem: disbelief in psi, and start thinking about how to deal with the consequences: lack of government funding, lack of knowledge of the evidence...

Tor said...

Dean Radin siad:

Because the imaging tools of the neurosciences are seductive and are reinforced by the mechanistic assumptions of big science.

A nice article on the infectious disease some are calling "neurophilia" can be found on the Seed magazine site:

http://tinyurl.com/d7zefz
I think I agree that this is the reason. The article you linked to had many good points. It is a bit funny though that the author seems to get caught in the big science assumptions himself at the end when he says:

But we know, scientifically, that the physical activity of the brain is the source of our mental processes... The mind is what the brain does...Seems he goes right into the causation and not correlation group. Anyone that has read Irreducible Mind knows things are much more complicated. Actually, you just need a couple of minutes of thinking to figure out it's not clear cut.

Whenever I think about what it would mean IF my mind was just my brain, and IF the classical mechanistic pre-quantum world view was the correct one, then I end up in a wonderful chaos of paradoxes. I can not understand that anyone that actually believes this can be scientists. Such a universe would undermine any science we can come up with as there could be no one that could judge the true or falseness of anything.

I think one of the finest examples of the absurdity of the "matter, energy and randomness is all " position can be found in this article about freaky (Boltzmann) brains:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/science/15brain.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin

Tor

Dean Radin said...

> about how to deal with the consequences: lack of government funding, lack of knowledge of the evidence...

But as you point out, problems of belief, paradigm clashes, and funding are all interrelated.

Research funding is a perfect Catch 22. You can easily gain funding if you already know the answers to your research question. But if you already know the answers, then you don't need to do the research.

anonymous said...

"Research funding is a perfect Catch 22."

Yes, if you play by the rules of the existing (rigged) system and go to the funding agencies.

An alternative approach would be to lobby congress and get a new funding admistered by parapsychologists for parapsychology and psychical research.

Some of the UFO researchers have put together briefing documents for congress, met with elected officials, and tried to build grass roots support, to try to get disclosure of government information on ufo's.

I wonder how a similar effort aimed at getting funding for parapsychological research would fare? I'd be surprised if it was successful but I think it would be great if someone tried.

Dean Radin said...

This is a good idea, but it would need a strong and persistent champion on the inside to have any chance of succeeding. And even with such support, because this topic touches upon deeply held spiritual and religious beliefs, it would entail risks that few politicians would be willing to take.

Gareth said...

"that, of course, is why older journalists don't even bother to ask the questions"

I think you hit the nail on the head there.