The Very Hungry Skeptic

I just recently listened to an episode of the For Good Reason podcast from back in 2010. The guest that D.J. Grothe interviewed was Jennifer Michael Hecht. Here is a synopsis:

Jennifer Michael Hecht discusses art, poetry and literature as an entree into skepticism and critical thinking. As an historian of science, she contrasts the poetic stance with the scientific worldview. She talks about temporal biases within science, and urges scientific humility, as opposed to scientism. She criticizes some forms of skepticism within the humanities that consider science to be just one mythic narrative among many others. And she explores how poetry and ritual may enrich the skeptical life.

What I wanted to focus on was the last part of that–“how poetry and ritual may enrich the skeptical life”. Often it is said that skepticism is empty, that it fills no void in a person’s life. Yeah, I suppose that is true, or can be true. The skepticism that is prominent is very Science-y, and while that can be very intellectually satisfying, it is not, perhaps, so “enriching”. It certainly is not emotionally satisfying.

It was thus very interesting to listen to this woman talk about skepticism from the point of view of Literature, and esp. Poetry. I used to love both those things back before I lost my faith, and listening to Ms. Hecht reminded me that I have, apparently, been “too busy” debating, looking at evidence, etc, to get back to it. Yet poetry and literature are very important human endeavours that add value and meaning to the Human Experience.

These are just some thoughts connected with listening to this particular podcast episode. I’m not trying to make a “point”, other than to say that if Skepticism seems all Dry and Humourless and just a bunch of old Science types trying to prove gods or ghosts don’t exist, and you hunger for something to fill the, shall we say…soul…try some literature and poetry. According to Jennifer they are full of skeptical goodness!

Here, have a listen!


Tags: , ,

8 responses to “The Very Hungry Skeptic”

  1. Black Ops Mikey says :

    I like chicken too!

    Wait! What? Sorry! I misread poetry and thought you wrote poultry.

    Anyway, poetry can be skeptical too — just witness this gem from Ogden Nash:

    “I think that I shall never see,
    A billboard lovely as a tree,
    And unless the billboards fall,
    I might not see a tree at all.”

    Joyce Kilmer is rolling in his grave.

    Here’s another, much more pointed example:

    In The Japanese published in 1938, Nash presents an allegory for the expansionist policies of the Empire of Japan:

    How courteous is the Japanese
    He always says,
    Excuse it, please
    He climbs into his neighbor’s garden
    And smiles, and says,
    I beg your pardon
    He bows and grins a friendly grin
    And calls his hungry family in
    He grins, and bows a friendly bow
    So sorry, this my garden now.

    If skepticism isn’t fun, you aren’t doing it right!

    It’s great sport to take the liars and cons down with all sorts of snide. Of course there has to be solid research, logic, history and science, but it should be all wrapped up in a package that is irresistible at the same time being completely devastating to the magical minded.

    We should cheerily dig holes for the wrong-headed to fall into with no escape like some beagle digging holes in the dirt walkway. Many skirt the issues, but what fun it is when they fall into the traps we set for them. (It was this premise behind setting up which is a triumph because none of those proponents of British Israelism ever thought to procure the URL).

    I never said it won’t take some work. I’m working on videos, composing music as background score, writing Power Point Presentations to be packaged up with rather modern software unknown to most of those who are stuck in the Dark Ages of cult thinking.

    We can also relish keeping score as we win in skirmish after skirmish.

    Congratulations on bringing thoughtful presentations to the scene and here’s hoping you can continue, building your competence and competence as you slash the weeds of delusional thinking and throw them into the fire and swing that wrecking ball to take down the narcissistic aggrandizement of those with overweening hubris.

    Poetry is difficult enough. Have you ever tried Haiku?

    I’m going off to dinner. I’m having chicken drumettes.

  2. Eric Sell says :

    I hadn’t actually been thinking of it from the POV of “clever methods of attack”, but I can see that.

    I was thinking more along the lines of how to add richness to what appears an antiseptic world of Science-y Skepticism. I’m reminded of youth growing up; the autumn leaves on the ground used to be Magical. Now they are a nuisance to be raked. Poetry and literature can return some of the magic to life (without recourse to Magical Thinking, of course 😉 ).

    I’m all a tingle about what machinations you have in store with your Superior Technology!

  3. Black Ops Mikey says :

    Well, here we go again — in case you’re interested and missed it:

    What Americans don’t know about science:

    What’s disturbing is that 25% of United Statesians still believe the sun goes around the earth… why, it’s obvious isn’t it?

    Note that in at least two cases, Americans know better, but because of their beliefs chose to answer incorrectly. [The Universe began with a Big Bang — did too! Did too!]

    I am personally disturbed that around 48% believed that antibiotics kill viruses and bacteria alike. Nuh uh: Most antibiotics have no affect on viruses and don’t kill them, but on the other hand a lot of viruses do kill us.

    Come on, about 35% don’t believe that the father’s 23rd chromosome determines the sex of the child? It’s apparent that some people think that men can’t do anything!

    And yes, Virginia, electrons are smaller than atoms. Good thing too!

    Left off the questions is whether or not termites are the largest contributors to global warming. You can imagine the furor that would cause. Still, methane is used to power many farms, including generating electricity to run the farm and several other homes. Maybe we should power our autos with methane and the termites can help — especially the Formosan subterranean termites in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: A renewable power source for sure! Just supply the wood! Very efficient.

  4. Black Ops Mikey says :

    Another fave question left off the questionnaire: Which is heavier — oil or water?

  5. eSell says :

    yes, I had just seen that last night. I was saddened that we can’t even get 80% on the Earth revolving around the sun–even the Catholic Church admits that, and they fought it tooth and nail for YEARS!

    As for the termites, they might be the largest contributor to GW, but unless they’ve found a way to dramatically increase their population in the last few decades, I don’t think they would have anything to do with the purported rise in temperatures…I mean, if they’ve always been around, then their contribution has been constant, right?

    But yes, those questions are so basic that I’m really surprised Oil and Water wasn’t on there…but maybe that is a good thing, for it might have been terribly embarrassing to see the score.

    • Black Ops Mikey says :

      Termites have a tremendous population in jungle areas, particularly in Africa — I say that because we often think of termites only as being in wood piles (and homes), whereas, many species build high free standing mounds.

      So yes, they are the #1 methane producers in the world, followed by cattle.

      I am being careful to speak of climate change as opposed to global warming. Those across the United States are suffering from one of the worst winters ever and to speak of global warming in that current context seems counter productive. Besides, if scientists have it right, we’re headed for another ice age in 10,000 to 15,000 years wherein Manhattan will under a mile of ice.

      Not certain if we will be around for the Sun to go Giant Red on us because in about 3.5 million years, as I understand it, Andromeda will collide with the Milky Way. In 10 million years or so, neutron star radiation is to wipe all life from earth permanently.

      We’re doomed.

      Is anyone doing anything about it? Are we planning to build generation ships to take us to the edge of the Universe where it might be more “quiet”? Looking at the fact we haven’t been back to the moon since 1969 and we’re not really realistically look at getting a manned mission to Mars, it hardly seems likely we will do anything meaningful and we’ll just all die off.

      A random thought occurred to me: How would GTA explain away the evolution of termites?

      Well, as a skeptic I believe it’s better to rely on science because even if it’s wrong in some areas, it is self-correcting (although you might have to wait until the next generation for theories to be fixed). It’s a whole lot better than religion wherein, as you say, the Catholics got it wrong about the earth revolving around the sun and took them 400 years to apologize to Galileo.

      One wonders how long it will take CoHAM to apologize to me about British Israelism?

      I’m skeptical about my chances….

  6. tmezpoetry says :

    So true. ‘Whole intellegence’ involves much more than neuro workings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: