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The Woo Woo Factor

Science is the religion of our time, and deviation from its dogma, even in the name of science, brings too much stress to true believers.
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I'm pausing at the end of a long series of posts on the mind outside the brain to reflect on science, bad manners and objectivity. Bad manners are the norm in the blogosphere, and no one who dips into that world should bring along a thin skin. Salt air stings but it's refreshing at the same time. There's a raffish lack of respectability to blogs, however, that drive away good people and good minds. Insulting boors abound here, and it's easy enough to go elsewhere and enjoy a civilized debate. The invective rises higher and higher the more you prick the rigid mind-set that most skeptics cling to. As a small experiment I vary my posts. Sometimes they are about fairly radical ideas, like the mind outside the brain. Sometimes they are about conventional ideas with a new twist, like the recent post on mirror neurons. In both cases the howls of protest reach the same level of raucousness. When commenters who claim to be scientific address you as brain dead, idiotic, unversed in science, and worse, their spleen is evidence of the exact opposite of the cause they espouse, which is objectivity. None of this would matter if the issue was entirely personal. I am happy to be associated with "woo woo" because I haven't the slightest doubt that reality is much more ambiguous than materialists believe. But the issue isn't only personal. Science is the religion of our time, and deviation from its dogma, even in the name of science, brings too much stress to true believers. The irony about "woo woo" is that the real mysteries that still need to be solved aren't in the realm of talking to the dead or bending spoons. There is no need to venture even slightly into the paranormal. The relationship between mind and matter contains all the enigmas anyone could hope for. Matter is inert and lifeless, apparently devoid of intelligence, and prone to random action that somehow turns into exquisite orderliness. If you take a single molecule of sugar and follow it from its source in a glass of orange juice, for example, to the moment the juice is drunk one morning at the breakfast table, the final destination of that molecule could be the cerebral cortex. Therefore, the sugar in your brain is what enables you to read this sentence. Yet it is absurd to say that the sugar itself is reading or understanding or in the case of skeptics, trying to shut down the whole investigation of what's actually happening. Leave aside the fact that skeptics are self-appointed vigilantes for the suppression of curiosity (a delightful coinage from the English writer Lyall Watson). The interface between mind and matter remains an open frontier. Science may explore it, but all of us live there. Does mind seep into matter like water going underground? Does it dissolve in matter like sugar in syrup? Or is there a seamless marriage of mind and matter that's so subtle it escapes our notice, the way air does unless we pay attention to it? None of these are supernatural speculations. In these posts I don't look for anyone to be for or against the opinions I offer. I'm looking for companions in a hidden journey. For anyone who wants to read thoughtful posts on the mind-matter issue, consult the ones from Dr. Avtar Singh at The best thing that can happen to anyone, skeptic or not, is to learn science properly, then look beyond its basic assumptions, making room in your mind for the unknown.

Every educated person has been exposed to the fundamentals of science and the scientific method. For some this was a mild inoculation, for others the beginning of a lifelong habit of investigation. There is no argument that being inoculated with science is better than being inoculated with superstition. But science has given us diabolical means of destruction and mechanized death. It has foisted an arid skepticism in matters of spirituality and all experiences outside the materialistic world view. To presume that conventional science is a benign, objective, morally neutral force in the world is hopelessly naive. What I like most about the "woo woo" camp, on the other hand, is its desire to remain human. I would much rather talk to ten people who believe that they have heard from their dead Aunt Minnie than a hundred who shout in my ear that only idiots believe in the afterlife. Skeptics include many well-mannered, intelligent, open-minded people and not just the yahoos one must plug one's ears against. But even among the well-mannered there is an enormous tendency to conform. However, what is intellectually respectable changes from age to age. That is the mind's saving grace. At any given moment, however, respectable thinking is usually the dullest and the least likely to open new doors.