Science, the New Age, and the Search for Truth

July 18, 2012

Good science is universal. Properly controlled scientific experiments should yield the same results regardless of who is doing the testing. Male or female, British or Turkish, young or old, Muslim or Jew, it doesn't matter. Science's universality is one of its greatest attributes. In this way is profoundly democratic and open to just about anyone. While those actually doing science are often highly educated and skilled, the principles of science are everywhere from the library shelves to the local science museum to a simple walk in nature.

Much pseudoscience and the paranormal, by contrast, is individual and idiosyncratic. When asked about the future, different psychics will come up with wildly differing-and often contradictory-information and predictions. Different astrologers will come to different conclusions depending on what methods they use and which school they follow. That fact alone should raise serious questions about the validity of such claims.

There's also a bit of a contradiction in the New Age notion that we all make our own realities and personal truths. If that's true, then why would we seek truths from other people, such as mystics, gurus, intuitives, etc.? Even assuming they have the insights and powers they proffer, their personal "truth" may not apply to ours. One New Ager will tell you that auras and angels are the basis for spirituality. Another will ignore or downplay those in favor of labyrinths, Celtic rituals, and earth energies. Still another agrees that these mystical elements are okay, but essentially just tools for communing with spirits, and she can teach you how to do that in her seminar or book. If New Agers really do believe that each person has their own path, why is much of it geared toward borrowing eclectic ideas and concepts from a wide variety of pre-existing notions from other people's paths? I'd think the sincere truth-seeker would look within, not in the New Age section of the local bookstore.

Robert McHenry, a former editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Britannica, wrote an insightful piece in Skeptical Inquirer about observations he made of New Agers while working in a used bookstore: "There was a large cadre of regular customers who made beelines for the Self-Help and New Age sections of the store....What became apparent only after the course of some months was that many of these customers were repeat customers in a highly regular way....Often they hadn't any particular titles in mind when they came in. Rather, they browsed, sampled, and-and this is crucial-bought several books at a time. Not several books by a single author, developing and elaborating his thesis through successive volumes, like Dr. Weill or Madame Blavatsky, but quite diverse books, often with contradictory arguments.... A week or three later they would repeat the process....What were they seeking in these books, I asked myself. Whatever it was, they didn't seem to be finding it. You'd think, wouldn't you, that after the first dozen or so books failed to satisfy, these readers would reconsider their line of attack? But they didn't....Nary a hint was there ever of dissatisfaction, only gratitude that we had an exhaustless supply." (July/August 2003, p. 54-55).

Something to consider.... 

Comments:

#1 Ciarán MacAoidh (Guest) on Friday July 20, 2012 at 8:14am

I used to do this. Terrible habit. A lot of new agers and pagans do the same thing with people and groups. But it allowed me to used bits and pieces from all sorts of mystical and ritual traditions and systems. There was a vague thread to it, three or four things I was broadly interested in but after only a while I realised that it was fruitless. When I started a more scholarly research into my ‘eclectic’ faith, it simply couldn’t stand up to the rigour and fizzled from an external spiritual experience, to an internal set of symbols + god/spirit, to atheism and scepticism. I think the idea personal truth is key to the book-hopping habit. I was able to use bits of others customs or beliefs to cobble together a framework that suited my ethics, my urge to the mystical and so on: A homebuilt personal truth but prefabricated and flat-packed.

#2 Dorion on Friday July 20, 2012 at 2:01pm

Yes, people often do the same thing from within one tradition (eg the Bible).

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