Guide Tales of the Rational : Skeptical Essays About Nature and Science

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That, I submit, is a lot of commitment to a movement. My disengagement has been gradual and not really planned, but rather the result of an organic change of priorities and interests. It has, however, also been accelerated by a number of observations and individual incidents. The most recent one, which finally prompted me to write these reflections for public consumption, was a private email exchange between Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris, which was eventually made public by the latter [13]. I have read quite a bit of Sam Harris too much, in fact , and I have made it very clear what I think of him [14].

I have also read quite a bit of Chomsky not enough, unfortunately , and he is one of the few people that I honestly regard as a role model, both as an intellectual and as a human being. So I began reading the exchange with trepidation, and gradually my stomach got more and more turned by what I was seeing.

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I invite you to put down your iPad or Kindle, or whatever you are using to read this post, and go read the exchange in full to make up your own mind about it. If your reaction is that Harris was trying to have a genuine intellectual discussion and that Chomsky was unfairly dismissive, then there probably is no point in you wasting time with the rest of this essay. Let me give you some examples and name some names of big boys who can take the criticism and who will keep doing what they have been doing regardless of what I write anyway.

I have already mentioned Harris, who writes about ethics with little acknowledgment or understanding, or both of just how complex a topic it is, and how much literature there is out there to engage with. Then we have Neil deGrasse Tyson. Great science popularizer, but also prone to anti-intellectualism in the form of dismissing an entire field philosophy of which he knows nothing at all [16], not to mention his sometimes questionable behavior when it comes to intellectual fairness, as even my colleague with whom I often disagree Jerry Coyne has firmly pointed out [17].

Last, but certainly not least dulcis in fundo , as the Romans used to say one cannot conclude this parade without mentioning P. I hope others equally worthy will not feel too bad about being left out of the above list. These are just examples of what I think has been an obvious general trend in SAM over the last decade or more. We can all disagree, and we are all wrong at least some of the time.

My dismay is at the celebrity culture and degree of groupthink that now permeates SAM — both of which, you would think, are exactly antithetical to what skepticism and atheism are supposed to be about. So, am I simply nostalgic for the alleged good old days of SAM, before the 21st century onslaught of the New Atheists and the rise of the anti-intellectual physicists? Not really.


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I have a high degree of personal esteem and respect for people like Ken Frazier the long time editor of Skeptical Inquirer , cosmologist Sean Carroll, and plenty of others. Rather, what has become clear to me is that one needs to look across fields and through time in order to find role models, and even those need to always be treated with a certain degree of skepticism. I can be inspired by David Hume, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, for instance, despite the well known personal failings of the latter two.


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And that, of course, means just staying within the narrow confines of science and philosophy. But there is so much more to humanity out there: history, literature, art, and just plain everyday decency. So in a sense my disengagement from SAM is part of my quest to look more broadly, not to be confined by the strictures of a club to which both Groucho and I would feel odd belonging to.

Where to next, then?

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Toward a true integration and a dialogue as opposed to a shouting match with the rest of society, when we will not need special organizations and dedicated meetings, because secularism, skepticism, and political progressivism including feminism will be part of the normal cultural landscape, embedded by default in ongoing discussions on how to make this a better world. I hope others equally worthy will not feel too bad about being left out of the above list.

These are just examples of what I think has been an obvious general trend in SAM over the last decade or more. We can all disagree, and we are all wrong at least some of the time. My dismay is at the celebrity culture and degree of groupthink that now permeates SAM — both of which, you would think, are exactly antithetical to what skepticism and atheism are supposed to be about.

So, am I simply nostalgic for the alleged good old days of SAM, before the 21st century onslaught of the New Atheists and the rise of the anti-intellectual physicists? Not really.

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I have a high degree of personal esteem and respect for people like Ken Frazier the long time editor of Skeptical Inquirer , cosmologist Sean Carroll, and plenty of others. Rather, what has become clear to me is that one needs to look across fields and through time in order to find role models, and even those need to always be treated with a certain degree of skepticism.

I can be inspired by David Hume, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, for instance, despite the well known personal failings of the latter two. And that, of course, means just staying within the narrow confines of science and philosophy. But there is so much more to humanity out there: history, literature, art, and just plain everyday decency. So in a sense my disengagement from SAM is part of my quest to look more broadly, not to be confined by the strictures of a club to which both Groucho and I would feel odd belonging to. Where to next, then?

Toward a true integration and a dialogue as opposed to a shouting match with the rest of society, when we will not need special organizations and dedicated meetings, because secularism, skepticism, and political progressivism including feminism will be part of the normal cultural landscape, embedded by default in ongoing discussions on how to make this a better world.

His main interests are in the philosophy of science and pseudoscience. I am not a philosopher. I have nothing against most philosophers, and I acquired a minor in philosophy and have taken a graduate philosophy class; however, under none but the loosest definition could I be considered a philosopher.

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What I am —what I do for a living— is teach physics and conduct physics research as a grad student, and the only advanced degrees I hold are in physics. Firstly, historically speaking, analytic philosophers are very pro-science.

Like Liked by 3 people. Fieldtheorist, allow me to clarify — I was certainly not throwing you and Massimo into a postmodern sack. The large popularity of the Kuhnian concept of paradigm shift and the Popperian contribution of falsifiability have forced defenders of science to this concession which is actually a sly turning of the tables.

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Knew it all the time! Always wrong, but always… self-correcting! Far from theories really being wrong, they are steps along the path to being right — continually less wrong. Naturally since science is by nature self-correcting, it needs no criticism from other disciplines. However, conceding the ideal of self-correction to scientific process does not entail the absence of strong external influences that can lead it astray. Like Liked by 1 person.