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Matt Colborn
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Everyone these days seem to hate the "relativistic view that science offers just another set of stories, that will one day be superceded;" Well, maybe. These days, I'm inclined away from either naive realism or naive relativism. I think there are a lots of very difficult issues here that get glossed over. For example, if you move from objectivism (a component of materialism) to an intersubjective view of knowledge, then to me anyway, some form of relativism's strongly implied. But I'm seeking a higher synthesis between relativism or perspectivism and objectivism, mainly because I think that there are points in favour of both. But these are questions it takes a lifetime to sort through, really. "he thinks there is a stable reality out there, and that scientists are closing in on it." Again, maybe, or maybe not. Maybe it's stable in some aspects and not in others. I can think of lots of ways in which it isn't very stable at all (especially in life, and cartainly in perceptual terms). And we shouldn't forget that many sciences tend to seek out regularities (stabilities) and discard the seriously irregular or unrepeatable. So maybe a harmonious, stable universe is basically a sort of illusion. And finally, I'd question whether paranormal phenomena are 'stable' in the way you describe. One reading of the history of this subject is that such phenomena tend to be particularly UNstable. If you combine this with the probability that they're tied up with consciousness in some way, and that they seem to manifest themselves differently according to culture, etc., then seeking a stable reality in the paranormal might be a rather difficult task....
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2013 on Cuddly Humanism at Paranormalia
"People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder [dependence on drugs, abnormal eating attitudes, anxiety, phobias and neuroses]." I'm sorry but this statement seems total nonsense to me. A key problem is the total lack of precision of the category. 'Spiritual but not religious' seems very vague, and could refer to almost anyone without a strong religious/atheistic view! And in the context of psychiatry -- with the DSM V revisions, so many of us are supposed to be afflicted with various disorders that it would be surprising if such a vague group didn't interesct with some of these things. So I'm afraid I'm rather sceptical!
Toggle Commented Jan 16, 2013 on Spiritual Not Religious at Paranormalia
I have long thought that there's a class difference in terms of paranormal issues. It's obvious for example on talk shows and also when I talk to people at work. the longer I spend outside academia, and for that matter rationalist circles, the more insular and disconnected that world seems. I think that many people who have odd experiences are actually rather uninterested in the sorts of fights that happen between ideological factions; and I must say that looked at from the outside these fights often seem of peripheral relevance for those who have strange experiences. Often the abstractions that we end up worrying about fail to connect with how to fit these experiences into the broader framework of a life, so individuals often fashion their own meaning. Maybe this is a good thing: I have grown suspicious of trying to force others to swallow one theory or another. Less dictation and more listening is perhaps called for.
Toggle Commented Nov 5, 2012 on Ghosts in the Media at Paranormalia
Blimey! Working towards a better and more egalitarian world's obviously working in the skeptical world....
Toggle Commented Oct 26, 2012 on Sexist Sceptics Revisited at Paranormalia
Good article, Robert. I've previously noticed -- in both my previous professional life and in some the comments to previous blogs -- that critics tend to argue in very simplistic Materialist OR Cartesian dualist ways [& materialism is to be 'objectively preferred' whereas dualism is a mere 'belief']. Like Badocelot, I have a great deal of sympathy for Neo-Aristotelean hylomorphism, which can be seen as a sort of half-way house between radical dualism and materialism; Bennett & Hacker argue for this in 'Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience.' I'd add that one can be an anti-materialist AND a non-believer in survival. e.g. the question of whether consciousness can be reduced to material or physical processes is distinct from questions of astral bodies, and distinct again from questions of survival. Finally, the advocates of materialism need to be more honest about the limitations of their position. Specificity of brain function is not the only issue; the reducibility or otherwise of qualia to brain function, which is FIERCELY debated in consciousness studies, is problematic for materialist philosophies, as is mental causation: see for instance the works of Jaegwon Kim. But I get the impression that a hard line often gets argued so that any notions deemed religious e.g. the 'soul' can be swiftly dispatched.
Toggle Commented May 30, 2012 on Atheists and Neuroscience at Paranormalia
I think Randi's sexuality's been an open secret for many years -- but who really cares? It's totally irrelevent to anything. Darren Brown's comments are just bizzare (or cheap point-scoring.) Maybe the psychics had noticed and were too polite to say anything!
Toggle Commented Mar 24, 2012 on James Randi's Personal Troubles at Paranormalia
Hi Lawrence -- thanks for your instructive comments on Braude's critique. I've been discussing it with Rupert and he has actually corresponded with Braude on it a while back. I also think that alot depends upon the notion of similarity, and whether one can call a given similarity in the world a natural kind or whether it's just in the eye of the observer. My suggestion: in view of Braude's critique it would be better to look for resonance effects between simple systems or patterns (e.g. newly formed compounds) than do behavioural experiments, where these issues complicate matters most significantly.
Hi -- Just got a copy of the book, and i'm looking forward to reading it. A think that Rupert makes a range of important observations, but I do have some serious theoretical issues with his morphic fields theory. These are exposed in an essay by Stephen Braude, entitled 'Radical Provincialism in the life sciences,' which is on this page; I agree with Braude that these difficulties are probably fatal to Sheldrake's theory in its current form, and probably explains the poor replicability of alleged effects in behavioural experiments. On the other hand, it maybe that a more coherent re-formulation is possible, and I agree with a lot of the more general points Sheldrake makes.
Hi -- I've a great deal of interest in Buddhism, practise shamata meditation regularly, and visited Sam Ye Ling retreat earlier this year, which Trungpa co-founded. I've read Horgan's earlier essay before, and whilst it contains some valid points, I think that it throws babies out with bathwater. 1. Meditation's harmful effects. I've experienced some of these myself in my practise, namely that sometimes, intense meditation seems to magnify negative or obsessive thoughts. If this happens, and following advice, I generally back off and watch TV or have a laugh. But also, this can be part of a process of clearing out negative emotions. From my experience, meditation's a powerful tool -- and *any* powerful tool will have risks attached. This does not negate the beneficial aspects, and only means that it should be used with wisdom and intelligence. The expectation that a powerful tool should have absolutely NO harmful effects is a totally urealistic demand, and one not followed in Western science (cf. the harmful effects of anti-depressents, including brain damage, which get doled out with abandon by medical practitioners.) 2. Trungpa: Whilst I'm well aware of Trungpa's foibles, and do not seek to excuse them, I also think that he's one of the most lucid expositors of Tibetan Buddhism that I've ever read. 'Cutting through spiritual materialism' and his other works are classics of their kind. Maybe the disparity between his behaviour and his work makes him a hypocrite; but at the same time, I can't deny the wisdom I've found in his work. For me, buddhism represents a practise and a path rather than a set of sclerotized dogmas. It's not the only set of spiritual notions in my life, but it's been a great help to me in treating my depression, and frankly, therapeutically speaking, it's helped me a lot more than Western psychiatry ever did.
Toggle Commented Dec 6, 2011 on Horgan on Buddhism at Paranormalia
Robert -- Thanks for the historical NDE; interesting! Catherine Zaleski did a good comparison of historical (I think medieval) and modern NDE accounts that's well worth looking at. The book's called 'Otherworld Journeys (OUP, 1989),' if you're not familiar with it.
Toggle Commented Sep 28, 2011 on Why Only Now? (by Robert Perry) at Paranormalia
Good point. Indeed, I think we, as moderns, have systematically constructed a culture that shuts out paranormal phenomena. (Descartes' ontology certainly does this; he deliberately emptied the world of the animistic content that allowed natural magic -- a rival to his mechanistic vision -- possible). As for other cultures, Stevenson style reincarnation case were sporadically noted long ago. See my blog entry:
Toggle Commented Sep 24, 2011 on Why Only Now? (by Robert Perry) at Paranormalia
Thanks for this, Robert. I cite the Gage story in 'Pluralism and the Mind.' My source was Hothersall's history of psychology, and it depicts the story pretty much as you said. You're quite right about the need to be careful in interpeting historical sources.
Toggle Commented Sep 13, 2011 on The Man With the Hole in His Head at Paranormalia
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Jan 21, 2011