Monday, 3 September 2018

Reincarnation Research and Myths of Scientific Practice

Reading this article regarding research into reincarnation it says:
But what about the ‘scientific community’? Isn’t the fact that you probably never heard about this kind of research sufficient evidence that there must be something fundamentally wrong with it.
No of course not. They will dismiss "extraordinary claims" out of hand and assume there must necessarily be a normal explanation. I do likewise for any extraordinary claims. But, what I consider being an extraordinary claim does not necessarily coincide with theirs.

What constitutes an extraordinary claim? Well, a claim is deemed to be extraordinary if it is not consonant with our background beliefs about the nature of the world. The background belief to justify rejecting reincarnation out of hand is the conviction that consciousness is a product of brains.

The vast majority of scientists (if not philosophers) do not seem to have any awareness of the problematic nature of this brain produces consciousness hypothesis (see blog post by me). Even ignoring this problematic nature, there are profound counter-intuitive consequences. For example if the brain produces consciousness, it is difficult, if not impossible, to rescue the notion that our consciousness is causally efficacious. It also seems to imply the notion of an enduring self is an illusion. And it seems hard to reconcile anomalous cognition (telepathy and the like) with this hypothesis. Article says:
After all, according to a rather widespread assumption about standards of scientific practice, anomalies irresistibly attract scientists like light attracts the proverbial moth. For in order to be a ‘real’ scientist you are expected to constantly challenge your pet theories about how the world works, always look for refuting instances that may indicate you’re wrong, and follow the evidence wherever it leads and whether you personally like it or not. The more outlandish an anomaly reported by more than one qualified and critical observer, so the myth goes, the quicker it attracts other scientists, ultimately producing a true land-slight of opinion in the ‘scientific community’, which is then faithfully reflected on the pages of mainstream science journals and in textbooks.
As the article subsequently points out, this is sheer nonsense. Research which confirms established beliefs tends to be precisely that which gets approved and gets published. Generally, scientists simply will not accept research which goes against their beliefs. Any maverick stuff is subject to unremitting hostility and ridicule.

As Max Planck once said:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Often it's extremely hard to decide what is the rational thing to believe.

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