Monday, July 18, 2011

Possibilianism and Transcending the Boundaries of Belief and Disbelief

Neuroscientist / author David Eagleman, who created Possibilianism,  is one of the most interesting thinkers of our time. His book Sum: forty tales from the afterlives, is one of my favourite novels (although to call it a novel, i.e. a work of complete fiction, isn't quite accurate).

Here is the engaging Eagleman explaining Possibilianism in twenty minutes:

Three quotes from Eagleman in his lecture that pretty much sum up the way I look at both science and religion.

After you walk the pier of everything we know in science, at some point you reach the end of the pier. And beyond the pier is everything that we don't know; it's all of the uncharted waters, the deep mysteries that we don't have insight into yet. That's the real lesson that you get from science - it's about the vastness of our ignorance.

Science is really about the creativity of making up new hypotheses. Part of the scientific temperment is the tolerance for holding multiple hypotheses in mind at the same time. Now, what we actually do is we make up new stories in the laboratory every day, and then we go and we seek evidence. We gather evidence to weigh in favour of some stories over others. But it's often the case that some questions are too far out right now. They're beyond the toolbox of science, and as a result we're unable to gather evidence for them. And in that situation it's okay. Science is comfortable holding multiple hypotheses on the table. That ambiguity is accepted as part of the relationship we have with Mother Nature. It's part of the vast mysteries around us. We have to have that ambiguity.
And finally:

This is not just a plea for simple-openmindedness, but for an active exploration of new ideas... Look around the strange world you're in, and see if you can live a life that is free from dogma, and full of awe and wonder, and see if you can celebrate possibility, and praise uncertainty.
Fascinating and thought-provoking stuff, and an example of the kind of thinking that transcends the boundaries imposed by those who insist we should simply believe or disbelieve in something.

Paul Kimball

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