Friday, August 07, 2009

Subversive Thinking blog's interview with me

Here's my interview at Jime Sayaka's Subversive Thinking blog.

4) Materialists complain that science is based on naturalistic assumptions; and enabling supernatural religious ideas like the soul or similar into science is giving a unjustified concession to religious dogmatism and obscurantism. What do you think about this idea?

Well, first we need to ask, what is and isn't part of nature. Quantum mechanics and relativity showed clearly that what people thought was nature - a clockwork regularity - wasn't really a good description of nature.

In medicine (a key focus of The Spiritual Brain), the question of what the patient thinks about a treatment is often critical to its effect. The brain is highly plastic, reorganizing itself in relation to the mind's focus of attention.

I certainly wouldn't wish to give a free pass to superstition, but clinicians have not always done a good job of understanding how the mind and the brain interact.

Medicine is the point at which most humans interact regularly with science, so I would suggest looking there first. Basically, most humans will go with a treatment that, in their experience, "works", whether it is digitalis or Lakota Indian horse medicine (excellent for arthritis). It is difficult to fool people about whether they experience less anxiety or pain; that's why I wouldn't, in general, worry too much about religious dogma or obscurantism, provided we just stick to medicine. People's own bodies will tell them whether a treatment works or not.
More here.

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Genetics and popular culture: Another claim that genes "explain" religion

In "NPR religion reporter dusts off fingerprints of God," (Salt Lake Tribune, July 30, 2009) Peggy Fletcher Stack reports on Barbara Bradley Hagerty's new book, Fingerprints of God:
“After interviews with Dean Hamer, researcher at the National Institute of Health's National Cancer Institute and author of The God Gene , Francis Collins, former head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, Pat McNamara of Boston University as well as several skeptics, Hagerty concludes that genes do seem to play a role as a "sort of tipping point for spiritual experience."

"It's a little bit like automatic air-conditioning," she writes. "For some people, a relatively modest rise in temperature ... can flip on the cooler system. Those people are genetically inclined to be spiritual. Others may sweat it out to 90, 95, 100 degrees; only then will their God switch flip on. And some would rather die of heat than turn to 'God.' "
Why should I think this is good news? It implies that no one on the other end is really listening, just an automated system.

I don;'t believe any of it. People with the widest variety of genetic backgrounds have spiritual experiences and there is no "switch." There is a line, of course, 24/7.

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