Monday, December 27, 2010

Rupert Sheldrake on Shermer and real skepticism


HT: Steve Hays. 

Letter to Scientific American November 2005 
Reply to Michael Shermer 
Do Skeptics Play Fair? 
by Rupert Sheldrake


In his attack on my work (“Rupert’s Resonance,” Scientific American, November), Michael Shermer asserted that “Skepticism is the default position because the burden of proof is on the believer, not the skeptic.” But who is the believer and who is the skeptic?

I am skeptical of people who believe they know what is possible and what is not. This belief leads to dogmatism, and to the dismissal of ideas and evidence that do not fit in. Genuine skepticism involves an attitude of open-minded enquiry into what we do not understand, and this is the approach I try to follow.

http://www.sheldrake.org/D&C/controversies/shermer.html

10 comments:

The Uncredible Hallq said...

This is a rather silly reply. Read the original article.

Sheldrake simply ignores the criticisms that some scientists have been unable to replicate his findings, that there are alternative explanations for the positive results, and that he's been illegitimately waving away problems with his work.

He's also blowing smoke when he accuses Shermer of claim to know that some things are impossible. All Shermer said in his column is that we should be skeptical when the evidence isn't very good.

steve said...

Sheldrake is citing his theory to make a broader point. The broader point doesn't depend the vicissitudes of his theory. That's merely an illustration.

In addition, Hallquist is the one blowing smoke when he tells us "All Shermer said in his column is that we should be skeptical when the evidence isn't very good."

There's far more undertow to Shermer's opposition than that innocuous sounding depiction let's on.

David Parker said...

Why isn't solipsism the true "default position?"

It seems like we should be equally skeptical of our epistemological framework.

I'm going to do a series on all this "default position" business.

steve said...

David Parker said...

"Why isn't solipsism the true 'default position?'"

Especially if we take Occam's Razor as our criterion.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

What does "undertow" even mean here?

I'm tired of hacks finding sinister implications in what their critics say that have nothing to do with the actual contents of their criticisms.

Hiero5ant said...

"Why isn't solipsism the true 'default position?'"

Especially if we take Occam's Razor as our criterion.


Because it is extraordinarily unparsimonious.

It takes the existing event description of one's experience and adds an entity of indeterminate complexity with unspecified universe-generating capacities which fail to render the event description more probable. More or less a paradigm case of a razor violation.

Also note that "objective states of affairs" suffers the identical mirror image problem.

shiningwhiffle said...

Let me, neither a believer nor enemy of Sheldrake's theory, take a stab at responding to Shermer's article (which is atrocious):

It starts off with some well-poisoning, but proceeds to describe Sheldrake's theory fairly enough, it seems.

He's right about Internet experiments not being proper science, but isn't it more likely that's just a draw to get people interested in the subject, akin to a science project kit (which isn't the way science is conducted either), and that it's not the backbone of his theory? Yet Shermer almost talks as if Sheldrake hasn't done any other work.

Only four studies are actually mentioned: one by Colwell, two by Wiseman, and one by Schlitz. Four cherry-picked studies are not the way to judge Sheldrake's theory.

Shermer dismisses the concept of telepathic dampening on shockingly poor grounds. No one claimed that failure by skeptics counts for the theory, just that there may be reason it shouldn't count against it.

Meanwhile, Shermer seems to take a similar line toward Schlitz's study. No reason is given for why her positive results don't count except that she's a believer so she just must be contaminating the evidence. How is that any better than the skeptical dampening suggestion (which is at least congruent to the theory and against which Shermer provided no real arguments)?

Shermer's argument boils down to little more than "These people are wackos; don't trust them."

Anonymous said...

AND A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE TIRED OF YOUR NAMECALLING, UNCREDIBLE HALLQ

UNCREDIBLE, YOU SAID IT, NOT ME. LOL!

steve said...

The Uncredible Hallq said...

"I'm tired of hacks finding sinister implications in what their critics..."

Poor little Hallquist is thinner-skinned than a baby's bottom.

steve said...

Hiero5ant said...


"Because it is extraordinarily unparsimonious."

To the contrary, it's ontologically economical in the extreme.

"It takes the existing event description of one's experience and adds an entity of indeterminate complexity with unspecified universe-generating capacities which fail to render the event description more probable. More or less a paradigm case of a razor violation."

No, it doesn't "add" an entity, much less an entity of "indeterminate complexity." Rather, the operative entity would be the solitary mind of the solipsist. That's not additional, and it's not of "indeterminate complexity," for the solipsist knows himself.

And the "universe" is just a mental projection of the solipsist. "Generated" the way we generate a dream.

For that matter, Hiero5ant is just a figment of my solipsistic imagination, a minor character in my cosmic daydream, so I can safely disregard his chimerical objections.