Customer Reviews: Philosophy of Science and the Occult (Suny Series in Philosophy): Second Edition (Suny Series in Philosophy Suny Series in Animal Behavior)
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on April 2, 2006
I was introduced to this book as part of a university course that was an option for all engineering students at the University of Toronto called the Philosophy of Science.

Although it could stand some updating, it was -- and still is -- one of the best references I've found for getting the bigger picture on the topic of the philosophy of science. In this book you will be introduced to:

* how to demarcate science from pseudoscience (harder than you may think!)

* contrary views on various, popular pseudoscientific theories like astrology, parapsychology, quantum mysticism and more

* an overview of the landmark theories and findings along the way (Popper, Gauquelin, Kuhn, Lakatos, etc.)

People who enjoyed the movie "What The Bleep Do We Know?" (yours truly included) will find cogent explanations of where the movie makes unwarranted leaps of logic and other fundamental generalizations in the essays on quantum mysticism.

What's Missing

There is a growing body of knowledge that seems to indicate that we (humans, that is) are very good at seeing what we want to see and are completely blind in many areas to things that are obvious to outside observers. It's important to note that this works both ways.

For instance, this filtering mechanism will have a skeptic unable to acknowledge facts that do not already conform to his/her worldview just as readily as have believers unable to acknowledge inconvenient contrary evidence. You can see this mechanism in yourself very easily.

Pretend you about to purchase a new car (let's say a new Toyota), don't you start to notice more Toyotas on the road? But if you are noticing Toyotas, are you noticing the new BMWs? Or, let's say you've decided that a person is truly terrible. Don't you fail to notice their acts of kindness and generosity? (Yes, even they are kind from time to time.) This natural mechanism (our brain as an associative machine), in my opinion and experience, is always in operation and can't be turned off.

Actually, to be more rigorous, saying that "people see what they want to see" is clumsy because it brings in the notion of volition ("people see what they want to see") when volition may play no part at all. The mechanism is closer to "people see what their hidden context allows them to see." The point is that the context is so hidden that a reasoned logical discussion may never surface it unless an outsider pokes around a bit. As the owner of a business coaching company, we are showing people their hidden contexts (which limit what they perceive) all the time. For example, every business person knows that you can only pick two of the following but you can't have all three: quality, low price or fast time-to-market, right? Really? How is it, then, that disruptive technologies are continually introduced to the market that provide all three features?

How else does one explain that some people swear that they can see auras despite our best equipment being unable to detect it? It certainly could be that they have a hidden capability yet unknown to science, but isn't it a safer bet that it is their brain's fascinating and still-being-discovered interplay between perception, cognition and hidden contexts that's at work? And of course, some people are plain lying for effect, especially because what they are saying can't be disproved.

In other words, some essays on this mechanism, the interplay of memory and perception and other mind-based aspects would add to the books usefulness. They would go a long way to explaining why science can capture none of the phenomena certain people claim exist -- despite the hard, honest work of thousands of researchers, much money and hundreds of years trying. (This is briefly mentioned in the book but is not nearly filled out enough -- to be fair the book was compiled in 1990.)

Other Books That Might Interest You

Skeptics and True Believers

Why People Believe Wierd Things
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on November 2, 2000
In the "General Introduction" of Grim's book, the editor starts his work by presenting the paradigm in which he works from. He asserts that the "philosophy of science is a paradigm of contemporary intellectual rigor." After he asserts his paradigm, he goes on by presenting his overall values and assumptions toward the blending of the occult and science. With the author's description of occult traditions, it is evident that he finds the occult very intriguing, mysterious and possessing an aspect of wisdom. For Grim, the issue at hand is intrinsically complex in nature and with a philosophical emphasis, takes the position that supporting logic presented in both within the scientific view and the paranormal view tends to be limiting and self-refuting. Alternately, Grim makes the point that the conceptual criticisms of paranormal beliefs tend to be compelling and worth review. His overall purpose is clear; to bring together the philosophy of science with the tradition of the occult. Grim introduces the philosophy of science by examining the problem of pseudoscience, discussing particular "occult" beliefs. The author also begins his work with two quotations, one of which is a quotation by Carl Sagan, from Broca's Brain. The quotation epitomizes the proper use of the art of critical thinking. He says, "They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown." Here Sagan recognizes a potentially faulty system of argument but does not necessarily correct the view to fit his own bias/perspective/worldview. Sagan merely suggests that the system of argument, in itself, is flawed. This type of critical analysis is most productive for either it may prompt a reexamination of the original argument or may force the purveyors of the original argument to use a more accurate argument to represent their position. Unfortunately, the authors in the text, do not remain consistent to the sentiments expressed by Sagan in their thought. Consequently, just as Sagan contradicts his brilliant notion over and over in his thinking, the authors tend to repeat his basic idea, that the notion of the totality of truth is inherently flawed, over and over again. One gets the impression that the truth can never be attained - unless, of course, one subscribes to the laws of scientism where only scientific claims are meaningful and that which does follow scientific thought is not meaningful. This type of critical thinking can become quite counterproductive as expressed in Pasqual S. Schievella's article, "Science, Proof, and the Ancient Astronaut Hypothesis," when commenting on the tendency for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal to be "more preoccupied with denouncing . . . than with investigating." This type of "science" results in hindering science. This type thinking is popular in Grim's book. It seeks to provide equal representation joining science with parascience but falls short of the mark. This thought-provoking book is well-written, nonetheless, and is a good exercise in critical thinking.
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on August 31, 2001
This is a solid review of the issues in demarcating Philosophy of science and the various psuedosciences. The second half of the book is an excursion into philosophy of science, with selections from many of the major names, while the first half is a collection of articles, some funny, some serious, on various pseudosciences. It is extremely useful as a reference.
If it has any weaknesses, is that it fails to clearly present a coherent way of demarcating one from the other.
Michael Turton
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