I was just really dissappointed with Sam Harris’ reasoning. I feel like sceptical thinkers should be strict adherents to good logic.
First and most importantly, he makes the argument that Eben Alexander’s neocortex could well have been working. This seems like the most important point of the entire debate. Did Eben Alexander have an experience with a “rich tapestry” while his neocortex was down? Eben Alexander offers some clinical evidence that he claims would indicate that his neocortex was not working. Sam Harris basically says that the evidence offered by Eben Alexander is not sufficient to prove it. He offers some explanation, but it is not enough.
Just as I am not willing to accept Eben Alexander’s word that his clinical signs prove a nonfunctioning neocortex during the time of his vision, I also will not accept Sam Harris’ word that the evidence is insufficient. I realize I am asking Sam Harris to put in a lot more work, with a lot more scientific detail, but it is necessary for him to fully make his point. I won’t succumb to the authority fallacy from either side.
My other big criticism is Sam Harris’ argument against the idea that the brain is a reducing valve for consciousness. He tries to explain that if this were true, then damaging the brain would mean less reduction, and thus greater consciousness. This is not a fair claim to make. We are only talking about a metaphor here. How you choose to interpret the metaphor is entirely subjective. One could just as easily explain that by damaging the brain you are closing the reducing valve tighter, and thus reducing consciousness. Generalizing from a metaphor is a terrible idea.
I also felt like Sam Harris’ tone was condescending. Personally, I feel like that reduces his credibility. Perhaps he was justifiably angy at Dr. Alexander - I don’t know. I just think it helps pundits be taken more seriously if they firmly maintain a professional demeanor. Penny Sartori, an NDE researcher from the other side of this debate coin, sets an excellent example for this.
Am I asking too much? Did I just evoke a mass response where everyone will accuse me of being a total idiot? I hope not.
The only thing I got out of the Dr. Eben thing was that he found a way to make money that is easier than neurosurgery.
Eben deserves all the ridicule he gets. He’s either incompetent or crooked. Not great qualities for a scientist. Should be a minister instead.
Jonathan, I agree with you. A good sceptic will try to see things in an ubiased way and will look for inconsistencies of reasoning on all sides of an issue. I agree that Harris made some hastey assumptions about Eben Alexander’s statements. I also wish Eben Alexander would address the question of whether he might have had his shaman-like experiences while coming out of his coma. He did say that he felt a couple things during his visions did anchor them in real time in accordance with certain people who were supposedly in the room with him during the doldrums of the coma, but I didn’t find that so convincing.
Of course, it’s all anecdotal anyway, but I assess it under the hypothetical “let’s just take it for argument’s sake” that it is more or less as he reports it (since people have been reporting such visions/experiences for as long as there is record of human culture), knowing full well that it still doesn’t consitute “proof” of anything.
I see the two comments preceding mine already assume that Alexander is likely only in it for the money or fame. Maybe so, but maybe not. It’s kind of unreasonable to assume he’s being insincere without knowing. Just like it’s unreasonable for Harris to have made some of the assumptions he made. I don’t think biases and presumptions should be encouraged in sceptical thinking. They’re certainly discouraged in science.
When a scientist stops doing science but still uses the moniker, he deserves to be ridiculed right out of a career.