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Friday, October 31, 2008

4 Context reduces fear. So get rid of context

Usually, when you hear a person's words in context, you understand the person's concerns.

So the hit piece author, seeking to demonize her subject, may strip words from their context and assign a different context, creating a misleading picture.

Amanda Gefter's New Scientist hit piece on the non-materialist neuroscientists provides a number of good examples. Here's one - she quotes Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard as follows:
Earlier Beauregard, a researcher in neuroscience at the University of Montreal, Canada, and co-author of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul, told the audience that the "battle" between "maverick" scientists like himself and those who "believe the mind is what the brain does" is a "cultural war".
So Qu├ębecois Beauregard - of all people - is a U.S.-style right-wing culture warrior?

Now, reading that and knowing how wrong it is, I did something that few New Scientist faithful will likely do: I got and read the actual transcript of Beauregard's remarks. And here are his words in context, with the quoted words highlighted:
But in reality, many more colleagues have sent me e-mails or have had secret discussions with me saying that it's time for a major paradigm shift in neuroscience, but since we're only a minority of maverick scientists at this point, it's not possible yet to reverse the old paradigm, even though a lot of young neuroscientists are very encouraged to look in this direction. But they're still afraid of having trouble securing research funding and encountering opposition from universities. The field is still controlled by the old guard, and the old guard still believes in the old doctrine that the mind is what the brain does and that you can reduce all spiritual and mystical experiences to simply electrical or chemical processes in the brain. So there's a battle. It's like a cultural war, if you will. But we are making progress slowly.
So, it turns out that Beauregard is - as noted earlier - talking about the problems non-materialist neuroscientists have confided in him about and is not himself seeking a battle with anyone. Gefter needed to take his remarks out of context in order to portray him as a threat to her readers.

Here's another example:
Well, the movement certainly seems to hope that the study of consciousness will turn out to be "Darwinism's grave", as Denyse O'Leary, co-author with Beauregard of The Spiritual Brain, put it. According to proponents of ID, the "hard problem" of consciousness - how our subjective experiences arise from the objective world of neurons - is the Achilles heel not just of Darwinism but of scientific materialism. This fits with the Discovery Institute's mission as outlined in its "wedge document", which seeks "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies", to replace the scientific world view with a Christian one.
If you go to the page at The Mindful Hack where I wrote that consciousness might be Darwinism's "grave", you will find that I was responding to hard core materialist Nicholas Humphrey, who himself uses the term the "Achilles Heel." Now, an Achilles' heel is a spot where a fatal wound may be inflicted in an otherwise invulnerable person, and he asks whether consciousness is the Achilles Heel of Darwinism.

Do you see how this works? I did not originate the idea that consciousness might be a problem for Darwinism. Humphrey titled his own essay that way (though he believes the problem surmountable). I responded, suggesting that "grave" might be a better term, given the evidence. But Gefter's piece cleverly creates the impression the Discovery Institute or the "wedge document" had something to do with it - and that it is all part of a plot to "replace the scientific world view with a Christian one."

And if you got all your science news from New Scientist, you would never even wonder ...

Next: 5 Finally, an idea! Wow, a real idea! But wait ...

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