By Steve Volk
“We are, as a species, neurologically uncomfortable with ambiguity. Imaging studies of the human brain in action demonstrate that the fussy little onboard computers in our skulls send out anxiety messages when confronted by conflicting or confusing information. As a consequence, we have a natural, internal impetus to settle on an interpretation that removes any perceived conflict.”
“When someone advances an idea inconsistent with our own worldview, we don’t just disagree—we start painting a mental picture of the person we oppose as somehow deficient, all higgledy-piggledy in the temporal lobes, perhaps, or just an outright villain.”
The most eye-opening thing about this book is its well-supported position that scientists, skeptics, and atheists can be just as pig-headed and closed-minded and irrational as believers in religion or the paranormal. When faced with evidence of the paranormal or, perish the thought, that some things are beyond human know-ability, they react as fearfully and defensively as those on the other extreme. I learned a lot from this book, most of all that atheists and skeptics have no call to put themselves on some kind of intellectual high ground.
I found the author very even-handed in balancing his book between support for reasons to believe in paranormal activity, and support for reasons to be skeptical. Particularly compelling is his story of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her quite tragic end. Hers is a cautionary tale. But she also cannot just be dismissed by skeptics. The section on lucid dreaming was of particular interest to me. He concludes the book with a personal account of his own which happened in a house he lived in when he was a kid. It’s good he saved it until the end once he had demonstrated his level-headedness!
August 20, 2013