Interview 1005 - Alex Tsakiris Argues That Science Is Wrong About Almost Everything

02/19/201529 Comments

Today James talks with Alex Tsakiris, host of Skeptiko and author of “Why Science is Wrong… About Almost Everything,” about the nature of consciousness and the failure of the "biological robot" paradigm. We discuss science as a methodology vs. science as a cultural, societal and political authority, and talk about the nature and likelihood of a true revolution in consciousness.

James' Appearance on Skeptiko

Skepticality Hosts Skeptiko, Blake Smith, Ben Radford, Karen Stollznow

Corbett Report Episode 208 – The Galton Institute Exposed

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  1. ben.cole.electric says:

    One could argue (in regards to the nature of morality) that according to the principles of natural selection, social norms and morals exist because of the biologically adaptive success that results for both the individual and the group from adherance to such morals. No doubt the PTB take advantage of this.

    • alex says:

      Sure, but it seems like some tortured apologetics just to prop up natural selection. I mean, come on, what we all experience is a sense of choice/free-will. We’ve just been battered into believing that mind=brain so we look beyond the obviously.

      The best science suggests mind>brain… i.e. consciousness is not an illusion.

  2. candideschmyles says:

    Calling two people who champion rationality in the exploration of extraordinary claims “liars” certainly confirms I will never open, let alone buy, this book. In addition Tsakiris manages to make at least two straw man arguments, I started to zone out toward the end so it may have been more, which shout to me he either does not understand or purposefully ignores what constitutes rigour in science. It seems to me he came to this “from business” and maintains it as his new business selling nonsense to those that only ever purchase confirmation bias for their conservative and regressive science hating worldview. These people are pretty stupid and such an unambiguous and provocative title is unashamedly for them. A better title might be Χαρτί τουαλέτας χρήσιμο βιβλιαράκι.

    • alex says:

      I never called Shermer a liar. I never called Krauss a liar. I enjoyed talking to both of them.

    • lol.hardiman says:

      In answer to candideschmyles, I think the title of the book is unfortunate. My understanding is that Tsakiris is using the term “science” here as meaning the current philosophical bias towards materialism which underpins what is accepted as worthy of scientific enquiry. The current scientific world view is informed by a assumption that the metaphor of the machine is more accurate than that of, say, the metaphor of mind. The machine metaphor is understandable given the enormous effectiveness with which scientific method has been used to alter and rearrange the “building blocks” of physical reality. The metaphor breaks down when confronted with examples, uncovered by the same scientific method, of phenomena which do not fit the current paradigm. Science is not the problem, the unflinching dogma of scientific consensus in
      a favoured metaphor is, however. Science should not be about belief -that is not it’s job. In fact, I believe the course of science has been severely hampered by a refusal to follow “maverick” researchers into realms which appear to contradict the tenets of the materialist canon. Consciousness research is doing this and there is much data gathered by reputable scientists which needs more focus from those in mainstream (and who get to influence the allocation of research funding). That science can only be enriched by embracing what may at first seem heretical is the thrust of Rupert Sheldrake’s recent book, “The Science Delusion”. Good science must always attempt to operate from what may be an impossible position (but nevertheless worth striving for) -objectivity. If that means looking beyond the metaphor of the Universe as machine in order to make sense of our world then all the better for science.

      • candideschmyles says:

        Thanks for the reply. While I of course concede that there are cliques and fashions that tend to dominate some fields of science and that this can stifle genuine progress and that there are institutional financing and publishing issues that exacerbate this I still would argue that science is in a golden age. You and a few of the other regulars found in the replies sections here bring insight and wisdom and a real effort to filter truth from bullshit. It is this spirit that drives scientists the world over and it is not difficult to find one who will voice the same concerns we express. However highlighting the pseudoscience that is at the heart of this discussion there are several blatant false assumptions being made and they reveal the whole issue as a house of cards.
        Perhaps the most prominent one is that mainstream science does not study the claims of those that think the Xfiles was reality tv. Telekinesis, clairvoyance, remote reading, precognition, synchronicity and more have undergone exhaustive research by mainstream universities and in every single case have been proven to have no detectable truth. This is not because there is some conspiracy to deny the paranormal or to keep such effects as covert tools of secret military units but becaus they failed many thousands of controlled experiments testing for a measurable effect. In my local university alone, Edinburgh, over 15,000 individuals have been tested for their remote viewing abilities. Result? No detectable effect.
        The disengenious arguments of the proponents of paranormal effects are invariably selling books. It is a career choice. That cannot be ignored but often is. Going to an overview of the many thousands of clairvoyants, mediums, spoon benders, tarot readers and other assorted soothsayers and what you find is not only has not one ever been scientifically verified but that the majority of them have been proven at some point to be deliberately fraudulent.
        As an occasional participant in the Edinburgh branch of Sceptics in the Pub I have my differences of opinion with them too, but not on this paranormal bunkum. If we had telepathy we would not need telephony. If we had precognition we would not have the lottery. If we had telekinesis we would be a very different species. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is the phrase of choice in this and anyone but anyone that tries to fudge out of it is engaged in deception of self or others. Dissing science is nothing other than a cynical diversion because they know their claims without exception fail scrutiny.
        Personaly I learned to read palms,tarot, plot an astrological chart and knew the hexagrams of the I Ching off by heart. It was my own honest effort to understand how it “worked”, to demonstrate its efficacy to sceptics that forced me to abandon it forever and to see it for what it is. Each method is not a tool to extract information but a method of providing quantative variables to assure confirmation bias. On the other side of it now it all seems so primitive and worse, self obsessed. And it leaves me resentful of all those who exploited my naïveté, youth and vulnerabilities in peddling the shit.

    • A distinction must be drawn between science and scientism, just like rationality and rationalism. I would certainly be skeptical of any -ism or ideology that claims to have answers to everything, for that is how deception occurs. Darwin’s views have been used to advance what can only be described as a scientific dictatorship or consensus, premised on a materialist conception of the world. The endpoint has been the advancement of scientism and the transhumanist agenda courtesy of our technocratic elite. In the end, this is the perfect bedrock on which to build the digital panoptic grid and cyberman with RFID chips as fashion statements (“Look at my cool RFID skin bro”). If only they can alter the nature of man’s environment (usually involving the vehicle of the state) can they attain an everlasting earthly utopia, by altering man’s ever elusive nature, i.e. making him a slave whether patent (Orwell’s 1984) or latent (Huxley’s Brave New World).

      Scientists do not begin life as scientists, but as social beings, immersed in whatever the zeitgeist of the age is. Most, if not all, work for any variety of large institutions – from governments, to corporations, to foundations, to colleges. Thus, although they may believe in the idea that they are expressing some sort of independent view, they are, in reality, nothing but employees. And as employees, there will no doubt be some influence in their perspective, as we must all advance a mutually agreed upon set of paradigms if our pay check depends on it, lest we want to be ostracized and unemployed (and in the case of scientists, perhaps even unemployable). That usually involves the idea that the theory of evolution is a fact, “climate change” is real and caused by man, that geo-engineering is a myth, that GMO is not bad, that all there is to existence is a mindless materialist blob, etc. To highlight the intellectual frailty of the new Atheists (e.g. Dawkins, Harris and DeGrasse-Tyson), when someone questions these fundamental premises, they must ipso facto be creationists or Bible-thumpers. In other words, for all their purported high and mighty rationality (I would argue rationalism), they are quick to rule out any other position, and instead, reduce things to simple Manichean choices. In the process, they destroy any notion of nuance, or shades of grey.

      Science, as I understand it, is based on the scientific method, on what is observable, testable and repeatable, in the physical world. When science steps outside of that, it behaves increasingly less like science, and more as a like-class of faith. This idea that science and faith are antagonistic and mutually exclusive is for the birds. Man’s very nature is both rooted in a strong urge to believe (recall Agent Mulder’s poster, “I Want To Believe”), and an urge for rationality (different than the cult of rationalism) to make sense of the world around him. That does not mean man is somehow limited because of it. Faith makes us just as much human as our rationality.

      Kuhn’s insight into scientific revolutions is relevant here as paradigm shifts can only occur when certain individuals go against the grain of what is established wisdom. This is the same thing that happened when the paradigm shifted from the Ptolemaic conception of the universe to the Copernican one, or from Newtonian Physics, to modern physics. In this backdrop, when one considers why Rhine’s parapsychology was dropped out of scientific dogma, it is not all that strange, when one considers some of the propositions that are now advanced in quantum physics.

      I am also somewhat skeptical of the concept of the peer review, which in recent ages, has become more of a crutch to ensure intellectual conformity, than a tool to ensure intellectual curiosity. It seems more of a entrenched institution with a scientific priesthood that is more interested in maintaining a monopoly on what is considered acceptable knowledge, than with intellectual freedom. In the process, it has replaced the old religion and the old priesthood, with a new one. Thus, what the institution of the peer review has done (whether intentionally or not) is that it has made scientists adhere to sets of conventional wisdom, which can be a double-edged sword. In the process, it has likely stifled intellectual freedom and curiosity that is supposed to guide scientists, and turned them more into proponents of dogma, to ostracize any potential heresy.

      • alex says:

        wow… lotta great points. I’ll put an exclamation point on one:
        “…although they may believe in the idea that they are expressing some sort of independent view, they are, in reality, nothing but employees… [advancing] a mutually agreed upon set of paradigms…”

      • candideschmyles says:

        I do love your posts. They are invariably insightful and the way you write always seems to say much more than the sum of the words. I find I agree with you a lot but sometimes I draw a different conclusion altogether. Such thought provoking posts are always inspirational.

        The problem with isms is when one is knocked down it is invariably replaced by another and nobody with the best will or intent can prevent the perversion of ideas by others. Darwin did no more than propose a method by which variation in species takes place. This was an inevitable conclusion of the scientific revolution enabled by the enlightenment and though he got the fame several scientists were converging on the fact of evolution not because they were particularly brilliant but because observation and analysis allowed no other conclusion. The revealed fact that evolutionary principles define speciation is not responsible for racism and eugenics in political ideologies. Invariably those that hijack a newly revealed scientific truth misunderstand or pervert it well beyond the its natural conclusions. This is usually done by non scientists. Which is why some who fail to actually be truly objective end up blaming science and scientists. Of course the aloof and insular often near autistic savaunt caricature of the average scientist only aids this scapegoating.

        As in every other field of human endeavour it is those that control the purse strings that define our collective subjective reality. It is easy to be critical of scientists, to find fault with their specialisations as missing a bigger picture. Such views are gross generalisations in their own right and fail to account for the truth that the overwhelming majority of people working in science are no different to you or I. Each of us subject to our own interpretations and biases in our world view. However the scientist dedicates his or her working life to rigerous, controlled, documented, verified, reviewed and reverified examinations of what demonstrably works or does not work. It has no “I believe!” poster. And even the most genius discovery is only one experiment away from being consigned to the great dustbin of theories. Scientific truth is not and never will be absolutist and every good scientist knows this.
        There are many charlatans that are making a good living from public misconceptions about quantum theory. Not until such times as quantum theory has been reconciled with the general model of relativistic physics should anyone begin to believe a word written on the subject. Many of the discoveries, such as those of Shroedinger and Boers famous cat and entanglement equations respectively now have confirmed exceptions and work arounds. Believing some quantum effect explains a paranormal claim is plain silly.
        The peer review process is not perfect by any means and that is why the likes of Aaron Schwartz, who took his life over his persecution for trying to give us all a creative commons, and his approach to making all science public domain is so vital. Again it is not scientists themselves who generally uphold the current system but the vested interests who invest for profit. So again it is not science at fault but our dominant political and commercial paradigms. The peer review methodology itself is not faulty, it is in fact vital and the best way to insure honesty. If we rolled out peer review into political statements and journalism our world would be a lot better.

  3. Simon says:

    I wonder if Bill Hicks had anything to say on related matters;

    ‘”Do you think Science is gonna save us, Bill?”

    Oh f&*k…

    Take mushrooms folks and squeegee your third f*&^%$g eye. TV has clouded it over, TV is like taking black paint to your eye.’

  4. Beau Boeye says:

    This comment is somewhat a fusion upon this interview, and your previous one with Kallen Diggs. Here’s a snippet from the appendix of a book I finished today:

    Appendix II

    ‘Ortega on the Barbarism of Specialization’

    “[The scientist who] is only acquainted with one science, and even of that one only knows the small corner in which he is an active investigator… even proclaims it as a virtue that he takes no cognisance of what lies outside the narrow territory specially cultivated by himself, and gives the name of “dilettantism” to any curiosity for the general scheme of knowledge.

    Anyone who wishes can observe the stupidity of thought, judgement, and action shown today in politics, art, religion, and the general problems of life and the world by the “men of science,” and, of course, behind them, the doctors, engineers, financiers, teachers, and so on.

    Compared with the medieval university, the contemporary university has developed the mere seed of professional instruction into an enormous activity; it has added the function of research; and it has abandoned almost entirely the teaching of transmission of culture.”

    . . .

    “Civilization has had to await the beginning of the twentieth century, to see the astounding spectacle of how brutal, how stupid, and yet how aggressive is the man learned in one thing and fundamentally ignorant of all else. Professionalism and specialism, through insufficient counterbalancing, have smashed the European man in pieces; and he is consequently missing at all the points where he claims to be, and is badly needed.”

  5. captjrab says:

    Science is another way of killing time as we pass through the seemingly infine universe on a ball on a journey to the unknowable.

  6. Mark K. P. says:

    Good interview, I enjoyed it. Considering his Greek heritage, a little disappointing that Tsakiris confines himself to the observation that science is a tool kit and method and doesn’t ask why, or to what political end(s), this method has been promoted to replace philosophy which, in ancient Greece, created science as its necessary assistant. Philosophy is the grand tradition of open enquiry, and synthesis of all the evidence (aka data) to hand and acquired ; the ruling and comprehensively synthetic intellectual discipline. Therefore naturally in conflict with doctrinaire ideologies, whether churchy/religious, social or even or scientific. Now the modern demotion of philosophy to a minor academic department focused on logic science and epistemology (i.e. more or less an increasingly harsh questioning and denunciation of its own reality and relevance) has profound meaning ; above all the opposition of modern ruling clique(s) to any serious attempts to synthesize the results of scientific investigations, and the removal of any benevolent or at least humanistic planning of scientific agendas.

    Questions of consciousness and of morality in human society are also fairly big ones needy of some basic historical perspective and philological distinctions. There are and have been many moralities, albeit much fewer than the kalaidescope of human societies, and each of them is completely tyrannical and would like to pretend that there is and never has been any other. And yet all of them have a direct genealogy from custom (in Latin the noun is mos, adj. moralis). It is permissible to agree with the modern atheistic proposition that human life has no intrinsic meaning (I certainly do), without accepting the preposterous quantum leap that human moralities are some sort of illusion. On the contrary they are burned into the human soul and consciousness, by all the peril, exertion and violence involved in their creation and sustenance across the millennia and tens of millennia, as the guiding force and ens realissimus of all human existence. In fact morality is the human creation par excellence, far more so than even science and philosophy, neither of which are necessarily compatible with the survival of humanity. The greatest and luckiest discovery of them all was the exponential advantage to every form of human society provided by custom. The father of morality (since its a masc. noun, in the Latin anyway; Grk. “to ethos” looks like a neuter).

    • alex says:

      No need to deal with philosophy… our top scientist has already pronounced that “philosophy is dead” (Stephen Hawking, 2013 Google Zeitgeist conference).

      • DeGrasse-Tyson has expressed a similar view regarding the irrelevance of philosophy. I imagine if you search enough you would even find Dawkins saying the same thing. Again, the new scientific priesthood.

      • candideschmyles says:

        “Our top scientist”? !!! Don’t you see how such pejorative bias and frankly childish jibes at a THEORETICAL PHYSICIST who’s work is almost entirely beyond experimental science just demonstrates that you are incapable of objective analysis? Even among theoretical physicists Hawking has more detractors than supporters so even calling him top theoretical physicist would be a falsehood.
        I would say more but it seems I am already having my posts moderated for their subversive content.

        • Corbett says:

          @candideschmyles – Since that last comment will leave casual readers with the false impression that I am actively blocking/changing/editing or otherwise manipulating comments here, I should clarify that no individual user of this site is (or even could be, as far as I know) singled out for moderation. Your comments are being moderated because they are over the word limit that I set for the comment section, but after seeing them I have in each and every case promptly approved them. For clarity’s sake, I would appreciate if you would confirm that not a single word of anything you have ever written on this site has been changed or edited and that your comments have always been promptly approved when (automatically) flagged for moderation.

  7. grennanp123 says:

    Sort of seems to me that Alex is making a distinction without a difference, or whatever that old saying is. Of course, just learning about all the ways we’ve been lied to for a very long time is itself transformational. It allows each to re-anchor themselves with a new, broader understanding of what’s going on. This old paradigm is collapsing and we are the minds that will figure out how to remake it into a new paradigm.

  8. Al Saleh says:

    Amazing conversation, Thank you both.

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb presented many other reasons to support your views about science. He criticizes the fundamental “tools” of science, and shows how much fraud is presented as “Science”. For example, As you seem to consider “Peer review” as a science tool, NNTaleb strips that process showing you the fraud in it. Read it in his “Black Swan” book and you will see the emperor naked for sure.

    NNTaleb is more vocal and confrontational in his critique of science than Alex, He even says some scientists are “immoral” because they promote their science although they know for sure it is completely fraud.

    Yesterday he was exposing some GMO “Scientists” on Twitter, have a look at @nntaleb.

  9. n.riva1989 says:

    Interesting conversation, I definitely think Alex was a bit flippant with regards to the title of his book. Science is a method used to extract and compute information in the natural world around us. Which seems, to be the method he would unavoidably have to use to argue his point.Therefore, according to his own title, the conclusions he comes to are equally fallacious as anything Laurence Krauss concludes

    Anyways, James please try and get Dr. Shermer on the show. It would be wonderful for him to hang up on you when he is confronted with so much logical analyze data. It would confirm my suspicion of him being none other, than a piece of shit, schill, scumbag fuck wod. Basically someone who fails to practice what they so arrogantly preach!! It was precisely living up to the ‘skpetic’ ideals which led me to your fabulous website. I really hope you can somehow get him on. I can just imagine the questions you’d have for him!!

  10. captjrab says:

    Seems to me the title of the book is a bit of hyperbole to get people talking about the book. Looks like it worked.

  11. candideschmyles says:

    I can confirm James that I have had every word I have attempted to post appear on the site unchanged in any way. I was unaware of the post length moderation delay but now that I am it makes sense. I apologise unreservedly if any other impression was given and for reacting too quickly to seeing a moderation notice.

    • Corbett says:

      No problem, and thank you for the confirmation. I just want to make sure everyone understands that no one is being targeted or singled out for moderation and that nothing is being edited.

  12. DownunderET says:

    Well this is my first post here, and I’m delighted to be a subscriber. Regarding the interview and Mr. Tsakiris, I’ve recently finished his book “Why Science Is Wrong”. When you read the book and some of the transcripts of his interviews with scientists, he is directly talking about consciousness. Now we could be here all day on this subject alone, but, what I’m about to tell you will be so alien that you are going to brand me a nutcase. Your mind and your memory is not in your head, in other words, that piece of mushy matter between your ears is not your mind, your mind is non-local. This is precisely what Dr. Rupert Sheldrake is saying in his book “The Science Delusion”. You may also want to check out some of the books by Dr. Joseph P. Farrell, such as “The Philosophers Stone or “Genes, Giants, Monsters and Men. He is without doubt, the go to person, on topics like Alchemy and The Hermetica.

    • candideschmyles says:

      Do they do a range of colourful bongs?

    • Simon says:

      Hi DownunderET,
      The whole ‘your memory is not in your head’ idea is not alien to me, but I don’t feel I know you well enough to say if your are a nutcase or not 🙂

      But the thing that struck me some years ago where reports of memory or personality transference in organ transplant recipients. The classic one being the lady that said “I’m dying for a beer” when asked how she was after op, but previously not liking beer but the previous owner of the heart did. There was a tv show in UK on it back in the 90’s perhaps, I think it was a channel 4 Dispatches programme, but I can not find it on Youtube. Not sure if this is something you have seen, but a search along those lines finds plenty of articles.
      Oh and candideschmyles a search for ‘colourful bongs’ also seems to show plenty of choices 🙂


      • DownunderET says:

        Well Simon it’s not my idea, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and Dr. Joseph P.Farrell talk about it in their books. Also the ancient’s talked about it as well. Just think of a concert pianist playing a complicated piece of music. Now what he’s doing is, reading the music, transferring that information to his two hands and playing the piece. Well how can a piece of flesh do that?
        Can I suggest you read Dr. Joseph Farrell’ book “The Philosophers Stone”, or Rupert Sheldrake’ “The Science Delusion”, and thanks for the reply.

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