Levels of Skepticism: Radin, Blackmore, Dawkins, Sheldrake

Recently, Dean Radin addressed the issue of skepticism on his blog, Entangled Minds. Here’s what he wrote:

Why I’m not a skeptic

"No, not why I’m not skeptical, or critical-minded, because
those traits are essential in science. Rather, I don’t consider myself
a "skeptic," as in a card-carrying member of a skeptical society,
because most (not all) of the people I know who belong to such
societies are loud, arrogant, angry, and cynical. I prefer to spend
time with people who are quiet, humble, calm and hopeful." [read more.]

Well said. I share Radin’s skepticism. So I left this comment on his blog.

"good point. btw, i love your book Conscious Universe. that said, i’m interested to know what you think of Susan Blackmore’s statement on Edge: http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_13.html#blackmore

"if
you already have a public dialogue/debate with Blackmore about her
issues with the paranormal, i would love to check it out. let us know. thanks and keep it flowing."

Mr. Radin was gracious enough to respond to my comment in length. Here’s what he wrote:

"Regarding Sue Blackmore’s statement on Edge, this is her story,
repeated dozens of times for decades in many different venues. She
basically says that at one time she completely believed in things
psychic, but now she completely doesn’t believe, but maybe she’ll
change her mind. Okay then. She presents this story well, and she’s a
very pleasant, engaging, and entertaining speaker. So people listen.

"My
take on such a message is that some people prefer to view the world in
black or white terms. Psi either absolutely exists, or it doesn’t. I
would suggest that people with such predilections probably shouldn’t go
into science in the first place, because exploring poorly understood
realms of Nature is practically guaranteed not to lead to absolutely
black or white answers.

"By contrast, people who are
comfortable tolerating high ambiguity without collapsing into premature
conclusions are much better suited to studying the great unwashed
paranormal.

"The reason I prefer the latter folks to the former
is that the latter recognize that uncertain realms of knowledge need to
be nurtured, and not ridiculed. To overcome our prejudices, we need to
be especially careful to avoid reaching premature conclusions."

[read more]

Nice. I resonate more with Radin’s "agnosticism" on psi and the
paranormal than with Blackmore’s uber-skepticism. I wonder why people
like Dean Radin are not included in discussions over at Edge or TED. I can only speculate.

Serendipitously, I just read this article on Huffington Post, via Deepak Chopra. It’s an article by Rupert Sheldrake narrating his encounter with Richard Dawkins. Here’s the key quote:

"The Director asked us to stand facing each other; we were filmed with a
hand-held camera. Richard began by saying that he thought we probably
agreed about many things, "But what worries me about you is that you
are prepared to believe almost anything. Science should be based on the
minimum number of beliefs."

"I agreed that we had a lot in common, "But what worries me about you is
that you come across as dogmatic, giving people a bad impression of
science, and putting them off."

"He then said that in a romantic spirit he himself would like to believe
in telepathy, but there just wasn’t any evidence for it. He dismissed
all research on the subject out of hand, without going into any
details. He compared the lack of acceptance of telepathy by scientists
such as himself with the way in which the echo-location system had been
discovered in bats, followed by its rapid acceptance within the
scientific community in the 1940s. In fact, as I later discovered,
Lazzaro Spallanzani had shown in 1793 that bats rely on hearing to find
their way around, but sceptical opponents dismissed his experiments as
flawed, and helped set back research for over a century. However,
Richard recognized that telepathy posed a more radical challenge than
echo-location. He said that if it really occurred, it would "turn the
laws of physics upside down," and added, "Extraordinary claims require
extraordinary evidence."

"This depends on what you regard as extraordinary", I replied. "The
majority of the population say they have experienced telepathy,
especially in connection with telephone calls. In that sense, telepathy
is ordinary. The claim that most people are deluded about their own
experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for
that?"

"He could not produce any evidence at all, apart from generic arguments
about the fallibility of human judgement. He also took it for granted
that people want to believe in "the paranormal" because of wishful
thinking.

"We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that
this is why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests
to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the
telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far
above the chance level. The previous week, I had sent Richard copies of
some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, so
that he could look at some of the data before we met.

"At this stage Richard looked uneasy and said, "I don’t want to discuss
evidence". "Why not?" I asked. He replied, "There isn’t time. It’s too
complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about." The camera
stopped."

[read more]

I’m waiting for Dawkins to reply on this one. Assuming that Sheldrake is being
truthful with his account, then Dawkins could use some "consciousness
raising" himself.

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