Atheist novelist sears popular science writing
|January 18, 2014||Posted by News under Media, News, Popular culture, Science|
Novelist Curtis White, incidentally an atheist, author of The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers excoriates the gullible materialism of popular science writing today.
As quoted in a review by Eric Banks (New York Times):
He is unhappiest when it comes to popular science journalism, which he views mostly as a malodorous brew of gushing prose mixed with a dash of snake oil: “The thing that I find most inscrutable about all of the recent books and essays that have sought to give mechanistic explanations for consciousness, personality, emotions, creativity, the whole human sensorium, is how happy the authors seem about it. They’re nearly giddy with the excitement, and so, for some reason, are many of their readers.”
Unfortunately for White’s timing, he finds his giddiest popularizer in Jonah Lehrer, to whom he devotes many pages. It’s rare these days to come across a diatribe about Lehrer that barely mentions his transgressions against journalistic ethics, but what angers White about “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Lehrer’s best seller, has nothing to do with fabricated quotes or self-plagiarism. Instead, he is upset by the book’s misleading technological reporting and overheated metaphors — for example, when Lehrer calls measured changes in the brain’s blood flow “snapshots of thoughts in brain scanners.”
Note: Banks’s review strikes the perfect note for a dying medium. He just knows White has to be wrong, but wrong in the sort of way that prompts sniggers rather than savagery. Here, by the way, is what he says about philosopher Thomas Nagel, author of Mind & Cosmos:
Most works in philosophy enter the world quietly, but not Thomas Nagel’s recent “Mind & Cosmos.” With its chin-leading subtitle, “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False,” the slim volume met with a firestorm of indignation from critics who thought Nagel had lost his mind or, worse, had thrown in with intelligent design theory. (Steven Pinker tweeted: “What has gotten into Thomas Nagel? . . . a once-great thinker.”) What incited the reaction was Nagel’s questioning whether advances in neuroscience are on the verge of resolving the mysteries of consciousness, and with it issues that have fueled philosophical speculation for centuries, from subjectivity to free will.
In short, Nagel brought it on himself by asking the questions you were never supposed to ask when the New York Times was the paper of record. And still aren’t supposed to ask.
Questions like, “Who believes all this cow plop anyway? Why is everything in pop science media written from the perspective that we all do believe it?”
All that said, White’s book begins promisingly but I found, on reading, that it advocates only a return to romanticism. It’s not so much that White’s wrong but that the problems lie deeper than he sees.
Put another way, due to the tsunami of information today, Braveheart would need to be a neuroscientist, a paleontologist, or an information theorist or someone similar to make a difference. At present, we are drowning in bullsh*t, not blood.
Note: Nagel brought it on himself? Gelernter makes the point in Commentary that craven academic legacy media types assume this.
See also: Science Fictions
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