One of the persistent search terms that leads outsiders to my blog seems to be Robert Anton Wilson. For whatever reason, people still read his stuff and google him…but then, the man had quite a cult following in his day.
I wrote a piece about him back in 2011 that gets some hits, but it’s usually my critiques of his books The New Inquisition and Quantum Psychology that garner the most traffic – and the most arguments from his defenders. Poor misunderstood genius. Aren’t they all?
Quantum Psychology is a mix of quantum mechanics overview and amateur psychobabble, and Wilson lays it on pretty thick with his psychobabble. That’s a shame because he did a pretty good job summarizing the physics. Despite the author’s stated purpose, The New Inquisition is really just a rant on skeptics and a long diatribe against CSICOP – the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, now just called CSI, or Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Wilson lays it on pretty thick in that one, too. Logical fallacies abound throughout, but the key thread in many of his arguments is the supposed dismissal of pseudoscience (not his term) out of hand as unscientific. I was rather harsh in my detailed criticism, but in my defense, little he said made sense.
Wilson argued that mainstream science fails to consider … acknowledge… out of the norm claims as valid science; that scientists dismiss them due to some massive fraternal conspiracy to exclude people and ideas …not … like … them. He, and other fringe defenders use the same, tired arguments – that mainstream science can’t disprove the claims, mainstream science is wrong, and out to get them. But the burden of proof is on the claimant, and as popularized by Carl Sagan, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Further, as Martin Gardner said in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science:
…scientists cannot be expected to stop what they are working on and write detailed refutations of every theory and pseudo-theory that comes along.
No. They can’t. They’re doing real work. Work that can be predicted, tested, refuted, confirmed, refined.
A few books to recommend this week…
Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise – highly recommended. Silver covers politics, gambling, weather, earthquakes and more. So much noise; it takes skill and perseverance to filter the signals.
Michael J. Fox’s short memoir, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future…: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned had a few gems of wisdom. A quick read, but worth it.
21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and Other Stuff) by Steve Sack was a fun trip down nostalgia lane. Be warned, a lot of the endangered object are British, but you’ll get the idea.
… and one to not recommend…
I took one for the team, sort of, when I decided to see what Glenn Beck had to say when he argued with himself in his book Arguing with Idiots. I do that now and then (see Robert Anton Wilson), to exercise the fact-checking skills. Unfortunately, Arguing is a near impossibility to fact-check (by design?), I gave up after it took me six hours to get through two chapters. I finished, but wow. Sad thing is, I know people who believe him.
Now I’m working on another Arthur C. Clarke, some cognitive science and I started Sophie’s World (YA fiction wrapped around a history of philosophy). I also plan to work through the complete Sherlock Holmes as Drew reads them, so we can talk about what he takes from the stories. I’ve read some, but not many. Coincidental tie in: another book in progress is Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova.
So much time, so little to read!
Quick one on the beer front… I tried another local brew this past week a Double Brown Stout from the Deep Ellum Brewing Company out of the historic Deep Ellum area of Dallas. Solid stout, a tad sour, but a good hearty year-round brew. Pay no attention to those who think beers like these are winter only. The Temptress is preferred. The beer, that is.
Movie of the Week
I cleaned up the combo garage-studio-tinkering bench on Saturday and listen to my iPod through my new Harmon Kardon Soundsticks. Awesome sound, in case you’re wondering. I started with a couple of steampunk bands (Abney Park and the one-man band Dr. Steel), switched to Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks and finished with the soundtrack from “Inception”. Bright idea to re-watch it, this time with younger sons Dylan and Drew… and… this time the second time magic trick didn’t work (I’ve said many times that I need to watch a movie the second time before the first, because I usually like it better the second time through, where I tend to be overly critical on the first outing. Chris Nolan would give R. A. Wilson a run for his money.
A better movie we rewatched this week, also this time with Dylan and Drew, was The Dinner Game – the French original. Lots of subtitle induced laughs. And the Disney with Dad night turned out to be a Disney double feature, with Hans Brinker ad the Silver Skates and Unidentified Flying Oddball. Hans was standard Disney family fare and Oddball was a campy send up of Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, done better by others, but it was still fun.