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James Randi coments on Sam Harris
Posted: 21 June 2007 06:24 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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http://www.randi.org/jr/2007-06/062207.html#i8

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Posted: 22 June 2007 05:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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[quote author=“DriverOp”]http://www.randi.org/jr/2007-06/062207.html#i8

I think it’s important to keep pointing out that Sam is uncritically accepting of certain kinds of woo-woo, which places a huge question mark over every other concept he accepts.  As with anyone else, take him with a helping of salt.

So thanks for posting this.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Every die-hard atheist or skeptic that I’ve read about criticizes Sam on that part of his book. He explained his reasoning for that somewhere. I’ll see if I can find it.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 11:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/

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Posted: 22 June 2007 02:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Frankly, Randi is an intellectual light-weight; his criticisms of Harris are, to me, completely meaningless.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 04:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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[quote author=“rab”]http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/


Thank you for that, rab. I had never read it : ).

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Posted: 22 June 2007 05:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“rab”]Every die-hard atheist or skeptic that I’ve read about criticizes Sam on that part of his book. He explained his reasoning for that somewhere. I’ll see if I can find it.

I know, I’ve read it too.  He basically says the fact he’s not pursuing the study of paranormal claims shows how much validity he places on them.  IMO, as an aspiring neuroscientist he ought to be aware of who’s a thoroughly discredited pseudoscientist in his field.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 06:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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[quote author=“Dan Rowden”]Frankly, Randi is an intellectual light-weight; his criticisms of Harris are, to me, completely meaningless.

And he wears a cape! 

I think that Randi comes very close to the caricature of the skeptic who is really just closed-minded and unwilling to fathom the possibility that there could be more to the universe than is described by science.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 07:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”]I think that Randi comes very close to the caricature of the skeptic who is really just closed-minded and unwilling to fathom the possibility that there could be more to the universe than is described by science.

I have to ask -

Do you mean “more than science will ever be able to describe” or “more than science is currently able to describe”?

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Posted: 23 June 2007 02:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”][quote author=“Dan Rowden”]Frankly, Randi is an intellectual light-weight; his criticisms of Harris are, to me, completely meaningless.

I think that Randi comes very close to the caricature of the skeptic who is really just closed-minded and unwilling to fathom the possibility that there could be more to the universe than is described by science.

And what do we gain by “fathoming” the “possibility” that there “could be” more to the universe than is described by science?

I’ll tell you what we gain!

We gain a chatroom full of vacuous speculation about “fathoming” the “possibility” that there “could be” more to the universe than is described by science. We gain a back door so that people who want to describe themselves as “atheists” can still keep the possibility that their little “minds” go on somewhere after their brains die. So far, there is no reason to be other than skeptical, if not outright mocking of these infantile pre-scientific fantasies. We get you and burt and mahahaha and meloncolin and the rest talking about “consciousness”.

Now, if you what-the-bleeping “speculators” want to entertain yourselves by blowing lots of hot air all over the immaterial “possibilities”, you may be my guests, and Randi’s, and those of every other skeptic in the room. What you do not get is a pass from having the skeptics make terrible sport of you sometimes. I’ll tell you something from the heart of my bottom, guys. “Fathoming” and “speculating” are for selling pulpy magazines, and for cocktail parties, and 2AM bull sessions over an empty keg in the frat house. And for New Age entrepreneurs to laugh all the way to the bank. Anyone can “fathom”. Talk is cheap.

End of rant. You may now go back to your regularly-scheduled speculating and, uh, profoundly profound “fathoming”. That there is not a hefty earmark in the NSF budget for the purpose is not an oversight on anyone’s part.

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Posted: 23 June 2007 03:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“HappyHeathen”][quote author=“waltercat”]I think that Randi comes very close to the caricature of the skeptic who is really just closed-minded and unwilling to fathom the possibility that there could be more to the universe than is described by science.

I have to ask -

Do you mean “more than science will ever be able to describe” or “more than science is currently able to describe”?

What I meant was actually the latter.  And, yes, I know that Randi does not actually think this.  That is why, Salt Creek, I said that Randi “comes close” to this caricature.  Sometimes the things he says really can be read as incredibly close-minded.  It is almost as if, but not quite, he is saying, “Science has not proven P, therefor P is false.”

And of course, there are people who think that this is what skeptics really think; some people believe that skeptics think that since science has not yet demonstrated that P is true, that therefore P must be false.  And, again, of course this is not what Randi really believes.  As I said, it is a caricature.  One that I almost believe that he tries really hard to live up to.

Randi is very dismissive of Sam’s interest in Buddhism, for example,

[quote author=“Randi”]Mr. Harris also has an attraction to mysticism, particularly to Eastern aspects of it, and appears to give credence to some of its tenets. To my mind, metaphysical claims and notions that result from mystical “experiences” – which can take place entirely within the individuals mind – cannot be accepted without accompanying, supporting, strong, empirical evidence. Surely that is not too much to ask?

Now, if you read what Sam says about Buddhism, you’ll see that Sam does not give credence (whatever that fudge-phrase might mean in this context) to any metaphysical claim made by Buddhism.  Nor does he think that we should just accept, on faith, the claims made for the ameliorative power of meditation.  Sam points to the empirical character of Buddhism (a character that he admits is often hidden behind layers and layers of unhelpful dogma) and then claims that it is worth pursuing a scientific research program into the effects of meditation.  Randi seems (though I admit that he does not come right out and say this) to simply dismiss out of hand the possibility that meditation may be of some value (that, I take it, is the cash-value of his claim that the “mystical experiences” of Buddhists take place entirely within the individuals mind).  This is Randi’s modus operandi: reject anything that does not comport with his reductive materialist world-view.  He won’t even drink alcohol, for Christ’s sake.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
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Posted: 23 June 2007 04:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”]
I’ll tell you what we gain!
We gain a chatroom full of vacuous speculation about “fathoming” the “possibility” that there “could be” more to the universe than is described by science… So far, there is no reason to be other than skeptical, if not outright mocking of these infantile pre-scientific fantasies…

I think you underestimate our ability to be skeptical and vacuous at the same time.

Now, if you what-the-bleeping “speculators” want to entertain yourselves by blowing lots of hot air all over the immaterial “possibilities”, you may be my guests, and Randi’s, and those of every other skeptic in the room. What you do not get is a pass from having the skeptics make terrible sport of you sometimes.

I don’t think many of us are asking for one. Have at it. Some of us handle it better than others. Some of your deliveries are better than others. You have acquired (admirably) everyone’s attention. Stand and deliver. Please.

We gain a back door so that people who want to describe themselves as “atheists” can still keep the possibility that their little “minds” go on somewhere after their brains die.

I see that a lot less than you do. Perhaps you are presuming this unnecessarily. There’s still plenty to talk about without getting all eternal-like.

I’ll tell you something from the heart of my bottom, guys. “Fathoming” and “speculating” are for selling pulpy magazines, and for cocktail parties, and 2AM bull sessions over an empty keg in the frat house. And for New Age entrepreneurs to laugh all the way to the bank. Anyone can “fathom”. Talk is cheap.

That’s so sad…

End of rant. You may now go back to your regularly-scheduled speculating and, uh, profoundly profound “fathoming”. That there is not a hefty earmark in the NSF budget for the purpose is not an oversight on anyone’s part.

There is no need. It is privately supported. We spend a fortune on it.

You deserve to rant as much as the rest of us, but why the “woe is me”? What did you expect to find?

Burn too hot and you’ll ignite all this stuff.

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Posted: 23 June 2007 04:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”]Sam points to the empirical character of Buddhism (a character that he admits is often hidden behind layers and layers of unhelpful dogma) and then claims that it is worth pursuing a scientific research program into the effects of meditation.  Randi seems (though I admit that he does not come right out and say this) to simply dismiss out of hand the possibility that meditation may be of some value (that, I take it, is the cash-value of his claim that the “mystical experiences” of Buddhists take place entirely within the individuals mind).  This is Randi’s modus operandi: reject anything that does not comport with his reductive materialist world-view.  He won’t even drink alcohol, for Christ’s sake.

Randi is not exactly a scientist, I’ll grant you. He is, indeed, a huckster. But so is Sam. He’s just a razor-cut, mild-mannered, Los Angeles surf-huckster (as opposed to Randi’s furrier brand of hucksterism). Sam has his book deal, riding the wave of our current fascination with religious fanaticism (a fascination that is not unwarranted, empirically). He throws a few crumbs to the New Agers at the end. Sell a few more copies. Sam definitely wants to pursue research into the value of meditation. He will have to fund it himself. If he could change society into something that would fund research on meditation, he’d have something. We’d have a society less-focused on production, and that would be a good thing.

I’m not much for the sugar-cube approach. I know my stuff doesn’t sell books. Nobody wants to hear that “this is it, folks; enjoy it while you can, but have some respect for the world you’re leaving to your kids”.  A book with one sentence in it. Riffing off the “Absurd Theologians” thread, nobody wants to listen to a moralist, but everybody wants to be one.

[quote author=“waltercat”]That is why, Salt Creek, I said that Randi “comes close” to this caricature.

As you can see, waltercat, I am not here to defend Randi. I am here to get in the faces of people who yammer about irreducibility in human affairs as if it were actually an issue, or even a possibility.

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Posted: 23 June 2007 09:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Very interesting thread. I see that Salty is in fine form. I think that there can be a fine line between skepticism and cynicism, a vaild point of view which never the less connotes some emotional attachment all it’s own. As much as I enjoy it myself, I have to admit that such attachment, however accurately placed, might preclude the clarity and filter content of one’s own experience of the world.
It is undeniable, I think, that we find our way through the world by following maps of expectations rather than confronting the data directly. All I think that what Sam advocates is direct experience. Real time empiricism so to to speak. He doesn’t get a lot more mystical than that I don’t think, but to the extent he does, he risks Salty’s eternal torment. A risk indeed!


M made laugh,

[quote author=“M is for Malapert”]I think it’s important to keep pointing out that Sam is uncritically accepting of certain kinds of woo-woo, which places a huge question mark over every other concept he accepts. As with anyone else, take him with a helping of salt.

I like this concept of “woo-woo”. Is it original with you? Can we get a more formal definition or is it something that just meta-phyically stinks so that we just sense when it’s near, or when we step in it? That’s kinda how it works with me….I even sometimes hear that twilight zone theme music in the background.  Or is woo-woo the stuff you find in your navel if you gaze at it long enough? LOL
woo-woo indeed!

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Posted: 23 June 2007 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Name the woo-woo capital of California (and give a summary, 100 words or less, justifying your selection; write-in candidates welcome):

A: Mill Valley
B: Malibu
C: La Jolla
D: Big Sur
E: Willits
F: Placerville
G: Lompoc
H: Zyzzyx

Woo-woo is a complex-valued function of topographic elevation above sea level, real estate value per square foot, probability of unobstructed view of the ocean, years since last LSD trip, astrological sign, and mass in grams of annual consumption of arugula. Secondary risk factors include ownership of German automobiles, employment in the entertainment industry, and lactose intolerance. Woo-woo can occur inductively in those who come into contact with primary woo-woo carriers. Primary risk factor for inductive woo-woo coupling is IQ of less than 140.

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Posted: 23 June 2007 11:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Besides the lactose intolerance, it sounds like the woo-woo life is pretty nice.  Not a whole lot of woo-woo going on here in New England, but we have a few pockets here and there.  Salt Creek—do I detect a note of jealous envy, what with all these low IQ woo-wooers living large in their beachfront homes?

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