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Jennifer Michael Hecht - Doubt
Posted: 01 December 2008 11:39 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of award-winning books of philosophy, history, and poetry, including The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology; Doubt: A History; The Happiness Myth, and her book of poetry, Funny, which Publisher’s Weekly called one of the most original and entertaining books of the year. 

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Hecht talks about the relationship of her book Doubt: A History to the books of the New Atheists, if media reception of the New Atheists was “gendered,” and in what sense her book is “less evangelical” than theirs. She explains what she means by the kind of doubt she believes in, how it is broader and deeper than mere disbelief, and the ways in which doubt can feed belief. She explores the implications of doubt for scientific inquiry, and how doubt should be applied to the questions and the certitude that some scientists and skeptics express. She talks about the importance of art, poetry and psychoanalysis for doubting, and how such forms of introspection and expression increase the benefits of doubt. And she reveals some her favorite doubters in history, and what she learns from them.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org

[ Edited: 03 December 2008 08:03 AM by Thomas Donnelly ]
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Posted: 02 December 2008 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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This interview started out with Ms. Hechts confusion over why she was not considered one of the “new atheist movement” authors, and then she proceeded to show exactly why those types of people would dismiss her a little. She can hide behind that “brotherhood” underground stuff all she wants, but look at the way she dismissed science when Mr. Grothe spoke of it as being accumulative, and then proceeded to tell me to seek out truth from poetry and meditation? Well I do not know how to type the sound of flatulent noises but thats the sound I make while holding two thumbs down to that. Poetry? Really? Not Physics? Not Biology? Poetry? And as far as meditation, thats just what other people call praying. Now Ms. Hecht if sitting around real quietly, with your legs crossed uncomfortably and silently begging the universe to reveal itself to you works, well thats awesome (fire up the incense),  I’m sure that approach might attract some, but I’ll stick with that accumulative knowledge method of searching for the truth. Science. While I do respect you and of course accept that you are an atheist, but there is no old boy underground that is conspiring against you, rather your approach is a smidgen illogical. However your book seems interesting and very well written, I will be purchasing it, fellow atheist.

P.S   “why science spends so much of its resources on longevity of human life?”  People who make this type statement completely baffle me!!!! Its like they hate themselves or something. I mean I guess we could all just read poetry and meditate and wait for death to take us to nowhere.

[ Edited: 02 December 2008 09:30 AM by thomasbean ]
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Posted: 02 December 2008 11:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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thomasbean - 02 December 2008 08:03 AM

P.S   “why science spends so much of its resources on longevity of human life?”  People who make this type statement completely baffle me!!!! Its like they hate themselves or something.

Hello thomasbean.  Welcome to the forums.  I can understand your being baffled.  To understand it, it helps to think of desire for more and hatred of something as the same end of a scale rather than opposites. They’re both passions.  One can be “not dissatisfied” with a lifespan without hating life.  You might equate it to battling one’s own greedy impulses.  It’s not a strategy with wide appeal but perhaps you can find some appreciation for it in others.

PC

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Posted: 02 December 2008 12:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I really enjoyed DJ’s latest interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht.

It is odd to see her attacked above for daring to apply a spirit of skepticism to science. While I don’t share her respect for psychoanalysis, I really resonated with what she said about the “new atheists.” Oddly enough, while her book Doubt, encouraged me to embrace my own identity as an atheist, the radical atheists have motivated me to change my Facebook profile from “Atheist” back to “Buddhist agnostic!”

Ginger Campbell, MD
<a >Brain Science Podcast</a>

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Posted: 02 December 2008 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Come on now I said her ideas were just a smidgen illogical, thats hardly an attack. All I was saying is that its the poetry,meditation as well as her reverence for psychoanalysis that have excluded her from that category(New Atheism), not a gender bias. And I certainly don’t mind being skeptical of science. You are supposed to be skeptical with science. Isn’t that the scientific way.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 02:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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thomasbean - 02 December 2008 01:29 PM

Come on now I said her ideas were just a smidgen illogical, thats hardly an attack. All I was saying is that its the poetry,meditation as well as her reverence for psychoanalysis that have excluded her from that category(New Atheism), not a gender bias. And I certainly don’t mind being skeptical of science. You are supposed to be skeptical with science. Isn’t that the scientific way.

Don’t be coy. Your entire post was an ad hominem attack, and you know it. Regardless of what one thinks of her ideas (and I personally
found them to be scattered, poorly-organized, and a bit too “fluffy-bunny” at times for my tastes), engage with her ideas and prove that
they’re “a smidgen illogical,” don’t throw out a series of bald assertions wrapped in those oh-so-adorable post-modern “air quotes.”

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Posted: 02 December 2008 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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.

[ Edited: 10 December 2008 11:04 AM by Luke Vogel ]
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Posted: 02 December 2008 07:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Thomas Donnelly - 01 December 2008 11:39 AM

Doubt: A History

I thought this was one of the better interviews and it makes the book pretty interesting—maybe a companion to Hitchens Portable Atheist.  Kudos to D.J. for bringing up the “why isn’t J.M.H. considered one of the new atheists”.

I was a little concerned that she was blurring the definition of “truth”; a post-modern definition that if you think something is true, it’s true for you, perhaps overstates her point.  One might say that there are truths in poetry but ... I don’t know… 

I will definitely get the book. Thanks again.

Here is a NY TImes article on Doubt and also the Susan Jacoby book D.J. mentions.

[ Religion: The Clash of Orthodoxies NY Times 12/5/2004]

[ Edited: 03 December 2008 03:46 PM by Jackson ]
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Posted: 02 December 2008 10:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Jackson - 02 December 2008 07:19 PM

Typo —it’s pointofinquiry dot org not point of inquiry comma org. —will edit this to a real   comment after I listen….

LOL you mean the Administrators AREN’T perfect! tongue laugh
I’ll have to listen to it too….!

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Posted: 03 December 2008 03:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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asanta - 02 December 2008 10:00 PM
Jackson - 02 December 2008 07:19 PM

Typo —it’s pointofinquiry dot org not point of inquiry comma org. —will edit this to a real   comment after I listen….

LOL you mean the Administrators AREN’T perfect! tongue laugh
I’ll have to listen to it too….!

I’m glad they are human…

It’s a good interview…I edited post above….

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Posted: 04 December 2008 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Yeah, I also find some of what she says maddening. The route to truth is through poetry, psychoanalysis and meditation? Huh? What could she possibly mean by that? One might as well have said that the route to truth was through hopping on one foot.

She loves science but compares much of contemporary science to phrenology? Freudian psychoanalysis is about as close as contemporary science comes to phrenology ... well, at least insofar as one would be willing to call psychoanalysis scientific ...

Very fuzzy stuff, as steveg was saying.

I will say that I agree with her about Ecclesiastes; and certainly most of the interview was interesting and on point.

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Posted: 05 December 2008 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I’ve found her claims about psychoanalysis, meditation and poetry weird, to say the least. Moreover, while I was listening those parts I was thinking “is it enough of posmodernist in POI yet?, who is next? Derrida? (well, Derrida should have to be interview using a ouija, but I guess it won’t be a problem for posmodernist), Irigaray?”

Other thing I’ve found weird was her claim that asking gender question about physics could bring some importants points, so the gender question on physics should not be banned. Said this way I have to agree, but noone had come with a meaningfull gender question on physics. The trouble is not with gender question, the trouble is with meaningless questions.

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Posted: 05 December 2008 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I found Hecht’s skepticism of science to be refreshing and the overall interview to be excellent.
I just have one fundamental problem, and that is that I feel that Hecht does not offer an solid explanation of why “Poetry etc. etc.” is better for reaching truth.

I accept science has been flawed in the past and continues to be flawed; however, we can test and discover its flawed nature.

Poetry and other avenues of “truth” are not nearly as testable.  It becomes easy to say, that poetry is better at truth finding when the very premise is untestable.

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Posted: 05 December 2008 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I’ve mixed feelings about this. I’m uncomfortable about blurring the lines between science and pseudo-science. I trivially agree that what we have discovered today may invariably be replaced with something new in the future but I think it will be science that will do it. This turning to art and poetry for truth is a little too fuzzy for my liking. Art is more likely to be a way of conveying our genetic tendencies or perhaps a way of communicating via lateral rather than direct means but I don’t see it intrinsically as a search for truth. Art may be deeply human, it may have even been the impetus for Philosophy, literature and science but it is hardly a search for truth.

It is somewhat important to be humble about just how much we don’t know. Even that some of our firmest beliefs may turn out to be something else but I still think science is the best way at it. It has a handle on the world that art and poetry never has. This handle is of course the important part, with art we cannot know that we are wrong, with science we can.

Perhaps the issue is tools. When trying to convey information, inspire or discover tendencies of the human mind. Art can be a powerful tool. But you can’t interrogate the universe with it, it has no handle on reality other than the handle the author already has through other means.

Still good interview, doubt is important as long as we can be functional about it and don’t lapse into solipsism or something. Might see if I can hunt down her book.

Thor’Ungal

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Posted: 05 December 2008 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Hecht posts a weekly blog on the Best American Poetry site.  She talks about the interview and this discussion there.

http://thebestamericanpoetry.typepad.com/the_best_american_poetry/the_lion_and_the_honeycomb/

cheers,
jm

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Posted: 06 December 2008 06:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I may buy the book, but I’d doubt it.

Doug I also found it ironic for her to cite phrenology (old school nonsense) as doubter-fuel and in nearly the same breath psychoanalysis (other old school nonsense) to show us the way.  In the (rhetorical or literal) book on psycho-medical jackassery phrenology and psychoanalysis should be in the same chapter next to skinnerian boxes and hydraulic models of psyche. Poetry is a fine means of expression of truths but a means to it? That just seems mad.

Re: meditation
This is neither here nor there. Though religions have made brazen attempts to steal it (like say concepts of marriage, sex, and morality) meditation has nothing whatsoever to do with it, certainly it is not synonymous with prayer as one poster suggested. I’ve meditated at times I needed the relaxation on a higher order of magnitude. I’ve no regard, exposure or interest in any form of religious meditation nor have I ever read or investigated any form it whatsoever.. I merely did what came naturally with no pretension to “high” meaning whether religious or psychological.

Re: The New Atheists
Number one.. who cares. Does a grouping label make my book or ideas better or worse? Number two, the exclusive arbiter of who is or is not a “new atheist” seems to be how said whos book is marketed.

re: doubt of science
Why is this being called daring or refreshing (as has been done in this thread)? First, doubt of science conclusions is clearly a critical part of the scientific machine itself. Many if not most studies done are meant to test the conclusions of others. Every new idea puts other ideas into the trash. This is day to day life in science- pick up a journal and read. Further, we’ve also had decades of anti-science po-mo writers, philosophers, scientists, movies, etc.., and more recently a lot of antidotal books telling us the new atheists or just plain atheism is too arrogant, too hard, or too self-righteous. Refreshing? I’m a bit sick on the glut of it actually. Here’s my .02$ for the next thousand science guys writing a book telling me how to read the other books: don’t. If Hitchens’ vitriol is overreaching I’m actually capable as a reader of realizing it. Shocking, I know.
Maybe you should write a book telling us why we should not be reading it. That’d be pushing the doubt envelope.

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