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Jonah Lehrer, and the truth losing its facts

Recently, we wrote about materialist science writer Jonah Lehrer resigning after making up Dylan quotes. Been some fallout since then:

This post went viral:

I’ve been critical of Jonah Lehrer in the past because of his seemingly blind exaltation of neuroscientific findings but noted that this is a symptom of the state of cognitive neuroscientific research in general. After all these years, I believe I’ve finally identified the major root source of my scientific frustration.

Lies of omission. Intentionally leaving out critical information with the intent to deceive.

The author Voytek quite fairly and properly avoids gluing horns and hoofs onto Lehrer, who is just a wunderkind science journalist.

He details, rather, how the culture itself rewards the misdemeanours of materialists.

Meanwhile, Daniel Bor, author and neuroscientist, revealingly  writes

Jonah Lehrer is one of the hottest science writers around. But this week, in a dramatic fall from grace, he resigned from his staff position at the New Yorker, and his publisher has removed his latest book, Imagine, from sale. The catalyst for these dramatic events is the fact that he fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan, as uncovered by the online Tablet magazine.

I had a few small interactions with Jonah Lehrer in late 2009, and looking back, they perfectly reflected both the reasons for his fame, and his impending troubles. At the time he was in charge of the Scientific American Mind Matters blog, and I was writing a piece for this. In a field where some editors are rather brusque, he in contrast was extremely friendly, complimentary, charming, helpful and supportive. It was the easiest thing in the world to like him, and I dearly hoped to have more dealings with him in the future.

At the same time, though, he wrote a News Feature article for Nature with a glaring factual error in it, in a field I know intimately.

Bit of an overreacton on the publisher’s part, surely, removing Imagine from sale. The book is probably silly enough, but so what?

The simple solution of not taking any materialist neuroscience seriously – treat it like politicians’ campaign biographies – would solve the problem with little harm to sales.

Bor, unfortunately, believes that some sort of solution lies in getting academic neuroscientists to write popular literature. Yes, if we want to make sure that no one ever reads lay-directed literature on neuroscience again, that might work.

See also: Neuroscientist Bradley Voytek: Forget Lehrer. Neuroscience’s “own house is in such disarray”

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allan at Brains on Purpose

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2 Responses to Jonah Lehrer, and the truth losing its facts

  1. I’ve come to disdain the categorization of neuroscience into material/supernatural the same way I do when people say “science vs religion”. I’m an old earth creationist, empiricist, and more or less of a materialist. I see the supernatural as the natural we don’t understand yet. God seems to govern everything we observe with laws and constants of magnificent splendor, why should any “supernatural” realm be any different?

    Specifically on the materialism of the mind; I suppose that in this way I also have a materialist explanation behind my own conscious, but that doesn’t rule out free will. Nor do I see our current understanding of physics, chemistry, or computer science (my field) having anything to offer that could explain sentience. Building a mind from a turing machine (whether hardware or wetware) is like constructing a house from words–it can’t be done, no matter how numerous or eloquent they are. You can’t get there from here. Nothing about any computer simulation should give rise to consciousness–something that can feel and experience, any more than it should be able to perform alchemy. But, “sentience is only an illusion!” Yet, how do you even give something the illusion of it unless it is first capable of experiencing it? When I write a broken radix sort that still passes its unit test, I’m not giving it the illusion of anything.

  2. Of related note:

    This following video interview of a Harvard Neurosurgeon, who had a Near Death Experience (NDE), is very interesting. His NDE was rather unique from typical NDEs in that he had completely lost brain wave function for 7 days while his the rest of his body was on life support. As such he had what can be termed a ‘pure consciousness’ NDE that was dramatically different from the ‘typical’ Judeo-Christian NDEs of going through a tunnel to a higher heavenly dimension, seeing departed relatives, and having a life review.

    A Conversation with Near Death Experiencer Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander III, M.D. with Steve Paulson (Interviewer) – video
    http://www.btci.org/bioethics/...../vid3.html

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