dilluns, de juny 30, 2008

Second Response to T

You make some very interesting counterpoints, but I'm not sure they fit the Novella/Skeptics-question. Novella and his merry team of debunkers are not taking on the Catholic Church and Islam; instead they are taking on the far more harmless (perhaps even gormless) ghost hunters and psychic mediums. Perhaps I should have been clearer there myself. To be blunt, I find that most people who put "Critical Thinking" in their Blog titles as capable of real critical thinking as those on the Christian Right. The main difference in the genre of their doctrines is that the so-called Skeptics are able to couch their manifestos in small and often disconnected bits of Scientific methodology, through which means they seem to know something others do not. The critical thinker observes and evaluates the information before him or her and makes an educated and informed opinion, but does not usually find the need to beat others' (i.e. the general public) over the head with that opinion. A hornswoggler with PhD or an MD sells a snake oil not much different to anyone else's. People with deeply held beliefs, even those rooted in Science, do not make the most reasoned people. As I say, having wandered around the Internet reading up on Dr. Novella, I give him credit where credit is due. Having an objective eye on questions which are near and dear to his heart he is not, however. Personally, I think he would be a lot more convincing without his website and other sundry talismans such as a podcast. Here he has moved from the realm of the academy into the realm of the three-ring circus and his main objective would appear to be finding adherents. The collective force of the academy cultivating a generation of real critical thinkers is a more noteworthy endeavor than opening a spate of websites and coffee clutches for the middle classes convincing them to chortle smugly as silly ghost hunters and sundry folks traipse about the planet believing in things which may or may not be there. Novella and his ilk (as are any deeply invested in establishing bases of social power) are full of what Plato would call "spiritedness" which is a craving for the security of absolute power and control. What I find remarkably tragic is that he is positioned, at least theoretically, to help build a generation of critical thinkers by taking his small part in the classroom. Instead he would rather razzle-dazzle sundry folks.

I will however VEHEMENTLY disagree with your position on the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life, and when I get out to Portland perhaps we will have some long, drunken rants in person about this topic. Objectively speaking, there is no way, if the Skeptics' world view is correct, to find any sort of deeper meaning, or even transient meaning in life. You and I are lucky souls, all in all well bred and well fed and from a rich country. If we're lucky, we may live long lives. However, if this is all there is, whatever transient meaning we create in life is ultimately pointless. Our time on earth will make no appreciable difference in this infinitely large cosmos. All the love, the sorrow, the struggles and triumphs of all mankind will be swallowed by a bloated and dying Sol. Even if humanity were to escape the Solar System and colonize all that our eyes can see, some day, the universe itself will cease to exist.

Indeed, you and I are free to find meaning in a life that ends after 50, 60, 70 years. But what of the child who dies of starvation in the Sudan? What of the young, hopeful mother killed by an exploding shell in Tikrit? Meaning, such as they were creating it, arbitrarily ends through no fault of their own. And yet, those of us who live 100 years, we still meet the same basic end. The parade is only going to one place for all of us after all. So if this is all there is, if life's final disappointment is, as Peggy Lee would say, on its way, then no, life has, ultimately, no meaning. We are an accident of the cosmos; our thoughts and dreams no more than accidental by-products of a wholly accidental life. Whether we kill each other slowly or quickly, we do so nonetheless. Even if we were to live in peace for 10,000 years, it would make no difference. In short, the notion that each of us makes "individual meaning" in such a paradigm is a cloying and trite cop-out... a card-board match lit in the wake of a hurricane.

And, I must admit, that such may be the reality in which we live. I've always been given over to Science. I like relatively hard and fast answers (although one must caution to say "relatively" since even experiments done in succession with all controls firmly in place will show variances in results!). Indeed, I'm a huge fan of Science, and even now regularly read and research scientific interests of mine. At the end of the day though, while Science tells us a lot about "how" the cosmos works, it remains silent on "why". There is still a lot of mystery out there, and I don't think the day has dawned when it's time to close the human heart and mind to pondering the possibilities offered to us by the great Question! You are my sweet, dear, intelligent and artistically brilliant T. I couldn't care less about Dr. Novella and his well-meaning but meaningless adherents. However I do worry about you, and this new world you're wandering into so self-assuredly. If there's one thing I've learned so far in my life of pain and loss, and I think you know what I mean, is that tomorrow is worth getting up for because it's a mystery and our lives are along the way to solving it. Science does not have all the answers. Religion, I'm sure has fewer, though still some. Become a brilliant Scientist my lovely T., but don't lose your soul along the way!To me it is logical to say this: From where we stand today there is still much we do not know. One's school of beliefs may be proven wrong in the end, but to believe only in one idea and one ideal is clearly wrong. We all die sometime, some time sooner rather than later, when we do, then, PERHAPS, we know...

At least that's what I say to myself when I observe the corpse of someone I knew in a coffin.

"Now he knows."

dijous, de juny 26, 2008

Response to T.C.

Hmmm, I've been reading some of these posts you leave behind, and I must confess a modicum of distress and concern. While clearly Dr. Novella is an intelligent and classically trained medical scholar and practitioner, he is also a man on a mission, a zealot. I've known many intelligent, educated self-proclaimed skeptics over the years who, like Dr. Novella appears to be, turn out in reality to be cynics. Not content to stick to their research and to things which science can solve, in a desperate search for temporary meaning in a transient world, they turn on the hapless victims of the same quest for meaning who are looking for something to believe in, but who have chosen "alternative" and certainly unprovable positions. Of course, some of these individuals really are charlatans. On the other hand, many, if not most, are sincere seekers of meaning in a world where God is, if not dead, on life support. The so-called skeptics and their minor militia of debunkers seem to scour the planet in search of anything science cannot, at present state, prove and pillage it in effigy, planting the ever-so-winsome banner of Nietzche in the wreckage left behind.

What I find so ironic about Dr. Novella is that he is a man supposedly dedicated to preserving life, and yet, what world does he offer to his erstwhile patients? Evidently one in which while one's life may be extended as much as humanly possible, one ultimately meets the same wretched fist at the end of the valley as the baby who died at birth. This cohort of intelligent, although rather narrow-minded people, smile gleefully as science extends a life and a consciousness which they ultimately deem as visceral, fleeting, and at the end of the day, while many of them will make shallow statements to the contrary, must be meaningless, pointless. IF, all there is to our lives is the observable and quantifiable, IF these unreflective adherents to Nihilism are correct, then what is the possible harm in letting people believe in something that may not be real? What? A person's life may be cut short? Possibly. On the other hand, medical treatments kill plenty of people every day in science's best attempts to prolong the ever-so-brief journey into eternal night. The best they can offer the world then a gleeful smile proclaiming: We were right and you were wrong! Now we shuffle off the same as you... but... but, we've set you free. Indeed, free to die in a world of worry and sadness that this is all there is. It's almost as though they take some sort of sadistic pleasure in crushing the last treasure in Pandora's box.

And while their message is generally bleak to say the least, they pursue their victims with the fervor of the Inquisition. At the end of the day, their resolute closed-mindedness, their self-righteous indignation, their smugness, puts them in the same social paradigm as the Conservative Right. They choose to proclaim rather than to observe and experience. They choose to mock rather than to listen.

As the Druid said to Gwenole when he took his leave: When we each cross that final threshold, we may both find that we were wrong. To me, that's sage advice, and a dose of which would go a long way on blogs like Neurologica.

Incidentally, it would be interesting to see Dr. Novella's tax return some time...

This response is in reference to: http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=309