Scienism and Subjectivity

Massimo Pigliucci and Susan Blackmore on Scientism and Subjectivity

April 18, 2019

This week’s episode of Point of Inquiry is our final episode recorded from CSICon 2018. We’re closing this series of interviews with Professor Massimo Pigliucci who discusses his ideas on scientism and how it’s used by people like Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Richard Dawkins with host Kavin Senapathy. Also featured on this episode is Professor Susan Blackmore who discusses her out of body experiences and whose research has centered around consciousness, memes, and subjectivity.

Massimo Pigliucci
Massimo Pigliucci

Prof. Massimo Pigliucci has a PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He currently is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His research interests include the philosophy of biology, the relationship between science and philosophy, the nature of pseudoscience, and the practical philosophy of Stoicism.

Susan Blackmore
Susan Blackmore



Susan Blackmore is a psychologist, lecturer, and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She is a TED lecturer, blogs for the Guardian, and often appears on radio and televisionThe Meme Machine  (1999) has been translated into 16 other languages; more recent books include Conversations on Consciousness (2005), Zen and the Art of Consciousness (2011), Seeing Myself: The new science of out-of-body experiences (2017) and a textbook Consciousness: An Introduction (3rd Ed 2018).

New music heard on this episode

“Paper Feather” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0

Hi, everyone. It’s me. Your point of inquiry co-host Kavin Senapathy. Today, I bring you the final two point of inquiry segments recorded live from Steichen twenty eighteen in Las Vegas. 

We’ll be recording more of those at the next Psychon, which is taking place from October 16th through the 20th. So let me or Jim know if you have any suggestions on which of the speakers to interview. First up on today’s episode is Professor Mossimo Polu G, whose talk was. I’d say my favorite among several really compelling talks, its icon. We had a great discussion on scientism, which is this idea that the scientific method is the only worthwhile way of answering questions and that any question that can’t be tackled using science is therefore unimportant or frivolous. And this often seems to apply to areas of social or political concern. In practice, those with a scientistic approach try to colonize other areas of expertize and call them science. So this is really an ideology, Baluchi boldly calls out. Prominent what he calls scientistic Lee oriented people by name, including Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins. Let me suggest where scientism as almost a badge of honor. Following my chat with Professor Baluchis, I speak with Professor Susan Blackmore, psychologist, lecturer and writer who researches consciousness, meems and anomalous experiences. 

Hello, I’m here live again. 

I’ve been doing a series of interviews from Psychon in Las Vegas, and right now I have Professor Mossimo Baluchi with me and I had the opportunity to hear his talk today called The Variety of Scientism and the limits of Science. Thank you for joining me today. It’s a pleasure. So you said in your talk and I think for this group, this could be considered a contentious statement that there is no such thing as the scientific method. And of course, I heard you. But for those of us who weren’t able to be here today, is it a common misconception among skeptics that the scientific method is a thing now? 

I think it is. And it’s actually a common misconception among scientists, which is a little bit more worrisome if you pick up a typical textbook science textbook, especially in disciplines like biology or geology, that usually start out with a short section on the scientific method by which they mean usually some version of a very, very old model that was proposing philosophy of science at the beginning of the 20th century, which is called the normal, logical deductive model. And the idea is basically that science is based, first of all, on laws. Numerological means derived, deriving from laws. So the idea that Santic Field deals with discovery of laws of nature and deductive meaning, that the major component of what you do is deduction. So deduction is, of course, the kind of reasoning, inferential reasoning that mathematicians and logicians do. Now, the fact of the matter is, no scientist has ever used probably the normal, logical deductive methods and in fact, philosophers of science that debated for literally close to a century throughout most of the 20th century. 

Well, if it’s not that, then what what else what is it exactly that scientists are doing? And frankly, by the end, the result is the consensus in philosophy is that scientists do whatever the hell it works. So they are very pragmatists, I think, of science. The scientific method as a tool box. It’s it’s made of different tools. And not every discipline uses all the tools like obviously historical disciplines. It’s like like paleontology or or astronomy use certain kinds of reasoning tools and certain kinds of observational tools and other disciplines are more experimental, like fundamental physics or chemistry used different ones. And some of these tools do cross disciplines and some of them become obsolete and they’re dropped. You know, science has a history, right, depending on how you count. Typically, people count. Think of the beginning of modern science with the so-called scientific revolution of the seven, 16th and 17th centuries, though, Galileo, Newton, people like that. But arguably, science started at least with the pre Socratic philosophers. So it’s at least two and a half millennia old. Aristotle later on was doing science. He was doing was going on the Aegean islands, collecting shells and dissecting animals and things like that. So it wasn’t in science. It was doing biology. It was doing physics as well. But these methods were different from the methods that Galileo was used. And the medicine we use today are different from the ones that were used two, 300 years ago. So science is actually a dynamic enterprise that changes and just picks up whatever works and drops, whatever doesn’t work. 

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I just I just thought of this at least in the speech in the sphere of medic medicine and human health. This idea of Eastern medicine versus Western medicine. Do you think that there are parallels here in terms of this dichotomy between Eastern and Western and the scientific method and not the scientific? You know? 

That’s a good question. No, I don’t think so. I mean, ideally, science and frankly, medicine, it’s a universal meaning that it’s. Let’s talk about medicine. So what is the called the gold medal in the gold medal? Does it make you better if you’re sick or to maintain your health? If you’re if you’re healthy and you can do that? Medicine also is very pragmatic. Right? You can do that with a variety of approaches and a variety of ways. So I don’t believe that there is any particular distinction between Western medicine, Eastern medicine. Do you just met is in the works in Buddhism. That doesn’t work. And how do you know that while you’ve tried it out, you do the observations, you the experiments, you do ideally the controlled studies. And, you know, if it turns out that acupuncture works, then fine, let’s use it. If it turns out it may help. But it works. It doesn’t. But then we use it. 

So there is it is true, however, that different cultures have developed, converging the convergent ideas and if they have tackled the same problems, perhaps in different ways. So there are. Traditions of doing philosophy, though, if institutions are doing medicine, different traditions to do with science. But in the end, if your question is the same, if the question is, well, what’s the primary cause of the origin of the universe, then you’re gonna find that one answer doesn’t matter. 

We should do it at east, west, north or south because you give us sort of the elevator quick definition of scientism. 

Sure. Scientism is the notion that some people apply science in areas where it either doesn’t belong or it’s not particularly useful. So it’s in a sense, this is betrayed by the ISM at the end. It’s an ideology. It’s the notion that science is an all powerful kind of activity and that essentially all the interesting questions should be reducible to scientific questions if they’re not. If science can tell you anything about it. But to your question, then the question is either meaningless or incoherent or uninteresting or something like that. It is therefore generally considered a term of criticism, although there are some philosophers that some scientists that actually proudly wear the badge of being scientistic. 

They think that they think that that’s true. I didn’t realize that the only the only questions are the good questions, only Fed scientific questions. 

So. From. 

From my experience, at least, it seems sometimes like scientism can be used, misused, excuse me, by fundamentalists or people that are sometimes referred to as, quote, anti science. 

I don’t like using that term, but I have seen it and science people and organizations. For example, I write and speak a lot about the relative safety of genetic engineering and agriculture as compared to the safety of any other breeding technique. And, you know, you often see people come at come at those who are communicating about this issue, as well as communicating, using scientism rather than, you know, rather than any objective method of communication or objective messaging. So I guess it often goes hand in hand with the shill accusation, too, especially when it comes to people who talk about pharmaceutical industry. 

So for skeptics, can you give offer any advice on a spotting scientism? 

And B, how to avoid falling into scientism ourselves? 

Yes, but let me address first the first part of your your premise. It’s absolutely correct that the word scientism has been abused just in the in the way in which you describe. But then again, that’s not news, right? Every word can be abused. And in fact, the very word skeptic is a. Think of people who think of themselves as declare themselves to be climate change skeptics. Well enough skeptics from our perspective, they’re deniers. Right. But they use the word skeptic in a very different fashion. Even the word pseudoscience can be abused. I mean, I’ve heard creationists referring to evolutionary theory as pseudo science. Yeah, right. So so just because the idea is just because a word is abused, I don’t think it’s a good reason not to use it. It’s just a reason to be clear. What do you mean when you use that word and to try to educate people if they actually do misuse it? Now, you are asking about symptoms of scientism. My colleague Susan Hack mentioned in today’s talk, has given a nice classification of at least six different sort of telling tale signs of scientism. I actually disagree with her on a couple of the details. But broadly speaking, it telling sign is the use of scientific of the term scientific as a genetic honorific term. So the idea that if something is scientific, it’s automatically good. It’s it’s a science. Aso’s therefore done. It’s settled. Another issue arises when people want to expand the definition of science beyond what would what you and I would recognize it. Right. So if so, for instance, let’s start naming names, because as you know, I’ve done that in the end. 

And so I was going to ask me, why not? Right. 

So, for instance, when Seminary’s wrote these famous book, The Moral Landscape, that subtitle went something on the lines of, you know, how science can solve moral questions. Well, that’s a startling title, if you think about it. Right. Because you hold the cup. So I would assume that a typical reader would buy that book and imagine that now he’s going to get answers to moral questions, such as whether abortion is permissible, under what circumstances? Let’s say with the death penalty or something. 

And now we’re gonna get those answers from what, biology, physics, chemistry and maybe neuroscience, since Harris has a degree in neuroscience. But in fact, in the in one or in the first or second of the footnotes to the to the notes, to the book, Harrys actually says that by science it means any kind of reasoning that is informed by facts. Well, by that standard, when my grandmother used to make risotto with mushrooms for me on Sunday mornings, she was using science because she was reasoning about what to do based on her factual experience. Surely that doesn’t count as science. 

I mean, if we expand the definitions, this might disagree, but she well, at least what she was doing in her mind. Right. 

Even if you think of food science as a science. Definitely. That’s not what my grandmother was doing. So the idea is that’s what I’m talking about. 

This is, in a sense, an attempt to colonize other areas of expertize and call them science night life, for instance, years ago. I had an interesting debate in again in Belgium with Daniel Dennett as a prominent philosopher of mind, and Lawrence Krauss, who is a physicist who I consider squarely within the group of scientists oriented people. And when he was when at some point Kraus said something on the lines I’m quoting from memory, but something on the lines of, you know, in the end it all comes down to facts. And so my objection was, well, what about. 

Mathematical theorems, those are not facts, right? 

Those are not empirical things this year, and yet they’re truths. Lawrence, answer immediately with what? Mathematics is just a sign. It’s just another science. And I saw then then it just quickly about how these these head is. And looking at names like what are you talking about? No, clearly, mathematics is not a science, but the medics is very useful to science. Absolutely. Just like logic is very useful to all sorts of things, including computer science. But logic is not computer science. 

The different the different things. It’s a tool for computer science. And just like mathematics is a tool for science, but it’s not a science because it unimpeachably based. Yeah. You know, there is no experiment you can do to prove or disprove the Pythagorean theorem. Pythagorean theorem is true by definition. Right. Give center axioms and that’s it. 

If you understand the logic. That was his answer. That was his answer. So. 

So that’s those are all attempts to expand the definition of science in a way that essentially includes almost every other rival. 

What you said you mentioned earlier that there are certain there are certain scientists and other people who wear scientism as a badge of pride. 

What do you think is the motivating factor for that? Why are people doing this intentionally? 

That is a very good question. And I can only give you my opinion about this. It’s not like I can I can rely on sort of expert psychological analysis, because now we’re talking about the psychology of individuals or the sociology of a group. In a sense, you felt this would be a. I’m sure that it’s a dissertation out there in the social social psychology of science to be written probably more than one. My experience by talking to people like the ones that I already mentioned or others like Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins and several others that come that come from Neil deGrasse Tyson is another one. I talked to all these people, and it seems to me that the fundamental sort of the springboard for all this is a combination of hubris. The conviction that whatever they do, it’s the most important thing. The case of some areas, for instance, turns out at the end of the book that it’s not science that gives you the answers. Neuroscience that gives you the answer, right? Well, surprise. Surprise. Right. He’s a neuroscientist. 

Like some title needs to be catchy. That’s what he does. 

But it’s not surprising that it’s his particular field that it turns out to be the important one right now, to be fair. He’s now the first offender. I mean, Plato famously said that that’s the most important thing that people can do is become philosophers. 

So, you know, of course, that is nice. 

Exactly. So there is a little bit of narcissism or, you know, hubris. And I actually think there is a significant amount of ignorance. And I mean these in the literal sense of the term. I know I honestly don’t mean this as an offense because we’re all ignorant of something or other. I am completely ignorant, for instance, of quantum mechanics, for that matter. Not wearing it as a badge of honor, but it is what it is. We all have limitations in terms of what we know, what we don’t know. 

But I have asked a number of these people that this is you know, these are colleagues and some of them are and friends, actually, despite our disagreements about things. And I asked and, you know, so so when was the last time that you read a technical paper and philosophy or an or technical book in philosophy and most of them said never, OK. 

Then I said, well, then what are you talking about, huh? You were literally talking about something. You know nothing about Stone to abstain from that. I mean, isn’t that a core value of skepticism, though? Sure. We should only talk about things that we actually know something about. Right. Otherwise, we should be asking questions. Correct. Or relying on other people who actually read stuff. Right. So that that I found that under the scrutiny. 

Why? Why why did they do it when they when they tell you about this? 

They just they just know they just they just know that it’s not useful. Like, for instance, if you ask Neal, I’ve asked Neal personally. He says, well, when was the last time that philosophy contributed to physics? And I said, well, that’s a funny question to begin with. 

I said, first of all, I actually can tell you of a number of papers published by some of your own colleagues in philosophy journals and or in collaboration with with philosophers. So actually, I can make a couple of instances. You know, I can suggest a couple of instances, especially when it comes to interpretations of quantum mechanics or to current discussions on the status of string theory. They actually are. Believe it or not, contributions to philosophers make. 

But I said that’s a funny question, because why would you think that the measure of the value of philosophy is the degree to which it answers these questions in physics? I mean, don’t you physicists do that? I mean, isn’t that your job? I mean, it would be like asking, say, the story of science is irrelevant because when was the last time that historians solve a scientific problem? Well, that’s not their business or their business. To say the history of science and the business of philosophers, of science is to study how science works. By the logic of scientific discovery, the logic, the structure of scientific theories, why there are certain scientific debates and not others, that sort of stuff. That’s what philosophers do. Why would you expect that? Or another one was. Lawrence Krauss, when we said, you know, my understanding is and this is a direct quote, I almost I think I memorized it precisely. My understanding that the only people that read philosophy of science papers are. Other philosophers of science because they’re so full of jargon. I looked at him and I said, Lawrence, I’m sorry. But my understanding is that the only people that read papers in quantum mechanics are physicists working quantum mechanics because it’s so they’re difficult and full of dragon. What are you talking about? That that objection can be raised to any academic field. That’s what defines an academic field. It’s abstruse. 

It’s very specialized. And it relies on jargon. I come from I come from a family of many scientists. Right. Right. 

Welcome to the you know, to the big feels about it. Why why you pinpoint that on philosophy as opposed to anything else. Everything works that way. Yeah. So it’s really puzzling. 

It is puzzling. No, I thank you for sharing with me kind of these interactions that you’ve had with these people. Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson, et cetera. And it’s good that that you can talk with these people about it. But today, during your talk, for example, and I think you must you’ve been doing this year, you’re kind of known for this. You called out these specific names, Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson, for their regular sort of dabbling in scientism. And you’re able to talk to them about it. But do you see a defensiveness? Of course you do within the skeptics community. But also, has that changed at all over the years? Have you seen the defensiveness reduce or increase? 

I do see the defensiveness and I do think as it has gone down, it has decreased. The first time that I started doing these kind of things was maybe four or five years ago. And I got fairly negative reactions, very slight reactions. Talk in particular about scientism. And now when I can do these things, actually more often than not, people come up to me and thank me for reminding. 

Our community, because after all, it is my community as well that we need to think about these kind of things more careful in some of these people have even gone back on their own words when they’ve been pushed like another one of the offenders was Bill Nye, the Science Guy. But he was called on it by several people, including me and he to his credit. He apologized and he said, no, I’m sorry, I was wrong. Which specific issue? 

That’s the issue. He was criticizing philosophy is useless. And he apologized and he said, you people are right. My critics are right. They explained things to me. I I’m going back to my words. That was such a refreshing example because, you know, these people part of the problem is, is this sort. Yes. You pointed out that I called out names. But then again, don’t we all. 

Yeah. I mean, talk before. Yeah. Thank you for mine. Well I is a lot less this time. Yes. But it did Tucker right before mine kept talking, calling by name. You know, Gwyneth Paltrow. Yeah. 

And you know, Jenny McCartney ends on by as a community we love like that person brings us together. Right. We don’t like Gwyneth Paltrow. OK. 

But the reason it’s good to cold out people is twofold. It’s not it’s not a question of shaming because, you know, Neil deGrasse Tyson isn’t going to be shamed by me and nor should he. Right. The question is different. Is first of all, because if you’re making statements about certain scientists and certain people are doing something wrong, then you need to provide examples. You can’t just make these genetic statements. And because they’re not, then obviously people and rightly so are going to ask, well, who are you talking about? It is like, I don’t know, I never heard this thing. And also because. The people that I mentioned in our community have a large impact, right? And impact means power and power. 

I mentioned my friend Spiderman, my favorite philosopher, during the talk, and he famously said that with great power, power comes great responsibility. Right. 

So I think that these people by these people, I mean everybody, including me, if somebody comes up to talk to me after I talk and, you know, this was actually wrong, which has happened, of course, I’ve been giving talks about these topics, similar topics since 1997. So it adds up. And some people come up to me and say, actually, you know something you wrote that did you put putting out a slight is incorrect. Well, thank you. 

You correct this light and you do it. That that should be the answer to the Bill Nye. 

And I appreciate about Bill Nye and one of the other examples that I personally love because I talk about genetic engineering a lot is that he changed his mind very probably after he very publicly made a statement that he wasn’t sure that genetic engineering was safe. 

And then he later changed. And yes, I do think we can call that the Bill Nye attitude. 

Exactly. So it’s one that we should cultivate. Not only we should push for our leaders, basically. I mean, I know that people don’t like to think about leaders, but let’s be frank, leaders. We have leaders, you know, if not de facto, if not elected. Certainly the fact that we are. There are certain people in the world leading voices in the community. So we should, as a community, push back when those leaders make missteps. And of course, more importantly, we as a community should adopt the Bill Nye approach to things. It’s like if somebody corrects you, you don’t get angry. I know that that I understand that that’s a natural thing to do. I’ve done it is one thing. Right? We should refrain on that and train ourselves to say thank you. I’m going to double check. And if you’re right, I’ll I’ll apologize. I’ll I’ll change. 

And if you’re wrong, I’ll let you know. So I’ll let you know because that it’s your time to to acknowledge that. Yeah. Well, that’s a great note to end on. Thanks again for joining me. Absolute pleasure. 

Bill Nye attitude is the best. I would love to see hashtag Bill Nye attitude become a thing. Moving on, here’s my conversation with Professor Susan Blackmore. She had an out of body experience in the 70s that convinced her of the reality of the phenomenon. And it launched her on a crusade to show what she then called, quote, those closed minded scientists, unquote. That consciousness could reach beyond the body and that death was not the end. But just a few years of careful experiments changed all that. 

I am here with Susan Blackmore. Thank you so much for joining me. No, it’s a pleasure. Thank you. And Sue is going to be giving a talk tomorrow on the new science of out of body experiences, as we all know. Out of body experiences for a long ignored by science. And as you write, they were likened to astral projection and wandering souls. But you had a dramatic out of body experience of your own in the 1970s, which at the time you say seemed inexplicable. Can you give us an overview of what happened? 

It would take me a long time. 

I raised two and a half hours, but basically I was sleep deprived. I smoked a little bit of cannabis. I’d been playing around with a Ouija board. I was in a kind of a bit of a dopey stage state. And I was sitting around with some friends and I felt I was going down a tunnel and I didn’t know anything about tunnel experiences. You know, the whole idea of near-death experiences hadn’t been invented by then. And then a friend said to me, Where are you, Sue? Which is a very weird question when you’re sitting right next to him on the floor. Anyway, I went, God, where I’m I’m in a tunnel. And it was as though everything became clear and I was looking down from the ceiling. And I can only say when people say they went to heaven and everything, all that stuff. And it’s so vivid. It really is. I mean, this may well be because you’re not taking any external information and your brains and venting it all very clearly. You don’t really know. But it is so compelling. Anyway, from there I went traveling and had all kinds of adventures, but eventually I tried to get back into my body and I kind of overshot. I went too small. So I tried to get larger and I got too large. And I’m really rushing through it to the end where it became a mystical experience wonders which again, I’d never heard of. I was always. This is 1970 and I was 19. And I simply merged into the universe, you know, became one with the universe. I mean, you know, like when I came back, which was a struggle to get back to normal, get back into that body and carry it around and feel as if it was a physical struggle or it was a physical and mental struggle. 

It was I’m drifting everywhere I can fly. How do I get back into that heavy body? And you weren’t scared. 

No, I didn’t think I was scared. My friend Kevin kept talking to me the whole time. I was just amazed. I was just amazed. And I think of it now as kind of reinstituting the illusion of self, because we know now from the neuroscience we have that, you know, there isn’t a soul or spirit. At least that’s what I think. And most skeptics would think there isn’t a soul or a spirit or little psychic conscious me inside our head. It’s what the brain does to tell a story that I’m inside here and I’m in control of my arms and legs and what have you. And the coming back process was a bit like that, having to reinstitute what it normally feels like from having just been, you know, everything’s one. Right. So that was the experience. Higher frame at the time? Well, in a way, yes, but not in a sensible way. I mean, it might. My response to that was it didn’t fit with anything I was learning in my degree on physics and physiology and psychology. So what could have happened? Of course, I became a dualist immediately. My soul has left my body or my astral body has left my physical. This proves telepathy. Clairvoyance like a kindness is precognition ghost poltergeist life after death. I started. I trained as a witch. I read the tarot cards addressed in all the appropriate. Far out. 

Yeah, well I would hang out with you about. I would. I would say you had the technology to bring our old selves. I’ll go. Wow. You were quite fun. Yeah. 

But you know then I did AP HD and did a load of experiments and that’s what turned me from Psychic Zoo into into a parapsychologists and then ultimately into a skeptic. And I joined psychology and, you know, got involved in the 1970s and 80s skeptic’s movement. 

Two questions, then a follow up. This was the impetus for for pursuing your HD, I’m guessing. Yeah. And then you also write that OBE research is contributing to our understanding of self and. 

And you’re planning to discuss the kind of positive skepticism you say that does not just debunk or ignore strange claims, but turns them into useful science. 

So what’s transformed OBD from fringe to a legitimate pursuit? 

Well, it took many, many decades, so I really struggled to try and understand that experience once I became skeptical and I wrote my first book in 1982. Beyond the Body. But we didn’t have the science. Then what happened was in 2002, neuroscientists discovered stimulating the brain of an epileptic patient, that he’d found the spot that you could induce an out of body experience. And this was it made a huge difference. It was published in Nature. You know, the Journal. And from then on, other people got interested. And there are actually quite a few scientists now, not just the fringes of parapsychology, but serious scientists looking at it, because we’re beginning to understand how the brain constructs the sense of self. What happens when you disturb it? And it turns out that the temporary parietal junction, in other words, the bit of the brain where the temporal lobe meets the the parietal lobe. This spot is a kind of hub in the self construction part of the brain. 

It links up with, you know, our memories of our life, with our control systems in the frontal lobe and our sensory data all put together. So right now, you’re sitting there holding your fists like that and looking into Gene. You know, your brain is constantly monitoring where your arms and legs are and what you’re doing. Otherwise you’d just fall over and die. So this crucial thing, if it’s disrupted by electrodes or as it turns out, by sleep deprivation, cannot pass. I think having my arm going to the Ouija board probably disrupted it. 

It began to make sense. And why I call this positive skepticism is this. I lived through an awful lot of bad skepticism. People just debunking. We’ve done our job. If we’ve debunked something, we’ve done our job. Now, if that’s a good job, if you’re debunking a ridiculous claim, you know, fake news or as we’ve heard today, some of the conspiracy theories, but something like an out of body experience, something like 15 percent of the population have these experiences. So what is positive about it to me is they have gone from being something which skeptics would go pooh-pooh. It’s all a load of rubbish to an experience that we know lots of people have. And that is now telling us something about how our brain constructs sense of self. So an out of body experience now is an experience in which your sensation of self is is broken up. So there’s a separate one. And of course, you construct from your imagination and memory a view from above, which is all you’ve got. So it seems real. And it’s telling us a lot of psychology, which to my point of view is fantastic. Well, I hope I have one son. There are ways of inducing you, but they’re not very successful. I spoke to somebody this morning in the audience who said that her husband had spent twenty two hundred dollars going for a week to have outer body experiences. And only two of all the people there. Had any experience. OK. And this place, I think if it’s where I think it is, you know, I will say you will leave your body. 

Well, it’s the the definition of an out of body experience is that you feel as though, well, you seem to be out of your body. I mean, nothing really leaves. Right. 

There are there are con people out there taking a load of money to convince people that their soul or their astral body has really gone off onto the astral planes. 

That’s certainly what we see in science when I guess at any point where the holes in data that we’re still trying to fill in are still there and we don’t know everything and we have more questions than answer answers. 

Excuse me. That’s a good place for con men to thrive. Right. 

It’s also a good place for science because what happens, it opens up more questions. You know, I thought all I had to do is prove the existence of telepathy and job done, though close minded scientists would already allow. Is that true beyond just retire? 

Yeah. I mean, travel the world for fun and not for work. Oh, this is fun as well as fun, too. 

This is the dance that turns out to ask questions because the questions to me now, you know, if we can we’re beginning to understand how the sense of self is constructed in the brain. But why are we so deluded about it? Why does almost everybody we know in every culture believe that they are a conscious self inside the brain, kind of living inside the body with free will? When Jolie Freewheel has to be an illusion, why are these illusions? How do they come about? Are they they evolved. Are they useful to us? Or are we better to throw them out as I am trying to? I’ve been training in Zen for 35 years. I meditate every day and you can get into very interesting experiences and into the dissolution of self that way. So all these questions open up, you know. Yeah. 

No more questions, which is the wishes of what we think. Now, do you think skepticism? I mean, I think I know a bit of your answer. But do you think skepticism sometimes goes too far in general and ignoring what we consider strange claims? And how can your research on OBIS provide insight on how to best navigate these waters? As skeptics when we come across these claims that seem strange or even preposterous to us, I’m really only concerned with the kind of strange experiences. 

And so those sort of fake news stuff, I, I don’t think I could say anything very helpful about. We’ve although we’ve heard a lot about it this morning. But when it comes to any odd experiences, whether there are people thinking that they’re telepathic or they communicate they’ve been to heaven or they’ve communicated in some unusual way or so on. Or they wake up paralyzed in the night and can’t move. And they’re terrified at these kinds of things. What we’ve asked to do is, first of all, listen to what people say and try to get them to describe the experience without wandering off into our well, it was the astral whatever, or it was the old hag or whatever to try and get people to actually talk about the experiences and then tried to understand them in the context of of the neuroscience, because I think OBIS are not the only experience which will contribute to our understanding of what it means to be human and why we live in this sort of deluded way, thinking, believing we have free will and believing that we’re kind of in control of our bodies, like consciousness has powers. Because I think it doesn’t mean, I suppose in the end, what that experience did for me once I’d got through the early stages of of of my research was to open up the question, what is consciousness? How does a brain in a body in a world give rise to it if that’s even the right word? What is it to do with this experience that we will have without which we think, well, there’s no point anything. 

And yet that’s that’s at the moment. Many people say the greatest mystery for science. We don’t have a clue. Most people in the unit on the planet, as far as we know, have always been naturally duelists imagining minder’s is separate from from body. 

Now, most modern educated people say, no, no, that’s that can’t be true. But then we can’t see how and why it isn’t true. How can the experience of might the feel of this table under my fingers, that feeling which only I can feel and you can’t. How does a brain do that? Yeah, we really don’t know. 

You don’t know. I mean, do you foresee a future? How far down the line do you think it’ll be before we do know how this works? And maybe we can manipulate it with some rate of predictability. 

I suspect that it might be something like the discovery of the structure of DNA. I mean, right up until 1953, whenever people were saying, well, chemistry is nothing to do with it, you know, the mystery of life and all we tell, what is it to make things alive, you know? Well, it turned out to be chemistry because once you understand how DNA works and its importance and so on, a whole lot of things, just a whole lot of questions, just go away and you start asking different questions which actually get. Somewhere. And look where biology has gone in in 50 years. By the way, my favorite school teacher in biology told me, don’t go to university and do biology because that’s basically done. Do psychology. 

I read you because, you know, not realizing that that discovery was like, you know. Sure. This was the 1960s, of course. 

So to answer your question, I suspect that something will happen and it might be tomorrow. It might be in 10 years. It might not be. We might all be killed ourselves through climate change before it happens that we’re not looking for some kind of discovery will go. Ah. 

Oh. That’s how to unravel the mystery. And I you know, I kind of wish I’d wake up in the night one time ago, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. 

Yes, it’ll happen somewhere unexpected. But what it will be, I don’t know. 

Well, if it happens soon, I would like to talk to you again about it. All right. I promise I will seek you out if it happens and come and tell you. 

You’ve written a book before we wrap up here. You’ve written a few books about this and rather quick succession. 

Oh, I know. I know. My husband’s gone and now it’s stopped now. 

But for more than two years, I was writing three books at once and they all came up in the last well, bit over a year. So one is my book on Out with the Body experiences. It’s called Seeing Myself The New Science About a Body Experiences. And it goes through this this whole story in the newer sense. But then also simultaneously, when I got going on that, I was asked to do the second edition of my very short introduction to consciousness, which is a great book because it’s really small. 

It’s one of those, oh, little tiny books. So it’s quite cheap and it’s got the kind of meat in it, if you want. I mean, it’s sort of outline. But then I was also at the same time asked to do the third edition of my huge textbook on consciousness, which was a massive, you know, a 600 page full color illustrated everything I can manage, which my daughter helped me with the third edition. And that came out earlier this year in the UK. And it’s imminent. Anytime, I hope, in the USA. Okay. So I need some rest now. 

Yes, I have to check it out. And you do need a rest. What do you have any downtime coming up and seeing like air. 

Well, the place when I get home on Monday, I’ve got three days at home before I go and spend three days giving four lectures traveling around the Netherlands. 

And then the week after I’m going to Belgium. And finally, yes, in the middle of November, I’m just going to cut myself off from email, Facebook, everything else, and dig the garden and plant lots of trees and just hang out at home. 

The middle of November always seems like the best time to do that. I’m planning to do that, too. 

Oh, well, I’ll think of you when I finally find myself in the garden feeding the chickens. 

Looking out over the hills and the river and going, yeah, why do I have it do all this other stuff. 

Enjoy. And then after a few months, I’ll go. I want to write another book. I share a poor husband. OK, that’s. That’s what good spouses are for. Right. Yes. He’s wonderful. Well, I look forward to hearing you talk more about this tomorrow and to checking out your books. So thanks again for joining me. It was fun talking to you. Thank you very much. 

This has been your host Kavin Senapathy. Thanks so much to professors, police and Blackmore for joining me for these interviews. I have a great time hosting Puli. You know, this happens now and then, but I heard recently from a listener who says that I have a Wisconsin accent, which I don’t think I really have. But you know, it’s fun bringing that old Midwest charm to our listeners. So with my Midwest politeness, I ask, could you please help spread the word about point of inquiry or no, crack myself up? Point of Inquiry is a production of the Center for Inquiry. CFI is a five on one three charitable nonprofit organization whose vision is a world in which evidence, science and compassion rather than superstition, pseudoscience or prejudice guide public policy. You can visit us at point of inquiry dot org, where you can listen to all of P. O I’s archived episodes and learn more about me and my co-host Jim Underdown and support the show and CFI as nonprofit advocacy work. And remember to please subscribe. We’re available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and your favorite podcast app. And please remember to share episodes on social media, email or whatever app you’re into. Thanks again, everyone. And I’ll talk to you again in a couple weeks. 

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin is an author and public speaker covering science, health, food, parenting and their intersection. Her work appears regularly at various outlets including Forbes, SELF Magazine, Slate, her "Woo Watch" column for Skeptical Inquirer online, and more. When she’s not writing and tweeting, she’s busy being a “Science Mom”—also the name of a recent documentary film in which she’s featured. Follow her on Twitter @ksenapathy and Facebook.