Templeton, heaven, and the media

In August of 2012 I wrote about the Templeton Foundation’s funding of an “Immortality Project,” in which a philosopher at the University of California at Riverside was given 5.1 million dollars to head a consortium of academics studying the afterlife, its ramifications, its possible existence, and its influence on people’s behavior. The studies also included Near Death Experiences (NDEs), and the possibility that they might say something about our life after death. There were also some real science projects. Well, maybe the research on “immoral” invertebrates can help us live forever (I doubt it), but funding theologians for this endeavor is just a waste of money.

At any rate, part of the dosh was just handed out to a philosopher at Christopher Newport University in Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was reported in the local paper, and a reader sent me a scan of the Daily Press‘s front page story, with the reader’s addendum:

A philosopher at Christopher Newport U. got some money from the Templetons to study “philosophies of the afterlife.” OK. No problem. The comparative study of views of the afterlife is a legitimate cultural pursuit. My issue is with the treatment of the story. You can see from the attached jpeg of today’s front page. The headlines make it seem like this guy and his collaborator (from Regent University) are taking direct observations of Valhalla, the Pearly Gates, the place where dead terrorists get all those virgins, the LDS Celestial Kingdom, etc. Of course, they’re not “seeking answers,” they’re just using 57 grand to ponder the same old pointless questions. And it’s part of the Immortality Project, which seems to toss poor defenseless hydras into a mix with human near-death experiences.

I thought to myself that this front page is a good example of the media’s role in the process by which philosophical matters become transmogrified into woo.

Note the subheadline, which explicitly presumes the afterlife is real  (“What is the hereafter like”?) and that questions about it will be answered by the Templeton-funded professor. I wonder if Professor Silverman has clarified this misconception in a letter to the paper.

10514706_10152208673178321_

Anyway, I was told the story was behind a paywall, but I found it here.  The sub-project sounds pretty dire:

The Christopher Newport University professor [Eric Silverman] received a $57,000 grant from The Immortality Project, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and University of California at Riverside, to study philosophies of the afterlife. Silverman is working with Regent University professor Ryan Byerly on the project, which they hope will lead to a published anthology with several contributing writers.

“Anything that we come up with, there’s some speculation here, there’s no getting around that,” Silverman said.

Silverman said many Western concepts of the afterlife are rather disappointing.

“It’s not a very attractive view. You have these images of an afterlife that is kind of less real than the real life — clouds floating around semi-isolated, not really doing very much,” he said. “I understand the reasons for the metaphors, but they’re kind of crass metaphors if you really think about it.”

Silverman hopes by using philosophical concepts, some new ideas can be found on what paradise would be like.

“Can you become a better person morally? What would the afterlife be like constitutionally? Is it a material physical life, is it immaterial, are there institutional structures?” Silverman said. [JAC: I have no words to respond to this]

“There’s a whole series of questions that are worth pursuing and really have not been dug into, at least not in a philosophical way in the past century,” he said.

“Some speculation here”? Now that is the understatement of the year! And it’s a great pity that some people’s concepts of the afterlife, FOR WHICH THERE IS NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER, are disappointing. I myself could envision a wonderful afterlife, engaged in great conversations with people like Spinoza (of course we’d all speak the same language, whatever that is), and having Szechuan food delivered to our clouds. Well, maybe it would get boring after a while—after all, it’s eternity, Jake!

The curious thing is that Silverman thinks that by using philosophy he is going to find out what the afterlife is like. This is what gives philosophy a bad name, and I’d be delighted if people like Michael Ruse (or, more likely, Elliott Sober) would criticize this.  Philosophy isn’t going to answer such questions, but perhaps a fertile imagination combined with wish-thinking will.

This $57,000 is an indefensible waste of money. But i have no doubt that some commenters will justify this kind of investigation, and perhaps Eric MacDonald will as well. After all, such studies could tell us about human truths, and give us a kind of knowledge that is simply inaccessible to “naturalism.”

But wait! There’s more:

Silverman, who is a Christian, said religion inevitably plays a role in any discussion of afterlife, but he and Byerly’s work is not focused on trying to do a comparative study of views from faiths such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

“Anything we come up with that’s likely to be true should be compatible with mainstream religion in general,” he said. “That’s what would we hope.”

Now how are they going to know what is “likely to be true” among the things they “come up with”? That, in a nutshell, is the problem of theology.  And their attempts to force whatever they make up into the Procrustean bed of “mainstream religion” shows that their project is doomed from the start, for they already have determined that their results must be compatible with already-existing fiction. That isn’t objective investigation, but apologetics.  What an embarrassment for the University!

I’m sure, however, that Templeton doesn’t mind the misleading reporting about their project in papers like The Daily Press. After all, the public desperately wants to believe there’s a heaven, which accounts for the over-the-top sales of books like Proof of Heaven and Heaven is For Real. I think Templeton would be delighted that people think their project somehow vindicates the reality of the afterlife—all the while declaiming, as does the guy in the video below, that of course the Foundation is not presuming an afterlife.

Here’s a video of the project’s principal investigator, philosophy professor John Martin Fischer:

Note that some money goes to theologians, and note also how he hedges about the possibility of an afterlife. Nevertheless, there’s that tiny bit of plumping for The Big Questions that Science Can’t Answer. As Fischer says:

“They [near-death experiences, or NDEs] point to the possibility that our own physical world—our own natural world—is more wonderful and complex, and perhaps mysterious and beautiful than we might have imagined: that they don’t necessarily and obviously point to the existence of an afterlife.”

Well, the phenomenon of NDEs itself, which has been known for a long time, already tells us that the workings of the mind at the point of death are fascinating (but not necessarily “wonderful”), yet we already know some explanations for those experiences.. So we already know about the “wonder and complexity” of the human brain evinced by NDEs.  I doubt, though, that Fischer and his team are going to find out what physiological changes cause NDEs.  No, they’re clearly aiming at the numinous.

In the article, Fischer avers that because he’s getting flak from both atheists and religionists he’s on the right track. As he says, “We get criticized from all sides, which probably means we’re doing just the right thing,” Fischer said. “As a philosopher, for me disagreement is a good thing.”

Not if you’re wasting money investigating fiction! This “we must be right” trope is simply crazy, and especially crazy for a philosopher. While doubt is a good tool for getting at the truth, you can’t always take universal criticism as a sign that you’re right. They might have laughed at Edison, but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

79 Comments

  1. francis
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    I have no interest in living forever; especially in this kind of a world.

    • GBJames
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Can I interest you in being a hydra?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        That’s a heady thought.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

          Don’t stick your neck out !

          • Kurt Lewis Helf
            Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

            Likely you’ll get fleeced.

  2. alexandra
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    57K would buy a middling level Mercedes or an entry level used Rolls maybe – in which to drive to
    The Kingdom Beyond…..

    • Kevin
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      New bike, new guitars, upscale scotches, and still have enough landscape about two acres of public land along roadsides so that pedestrians can enjoy commuting more.

    • Tulse
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      57K would buy a middling level Mercedes

      I really hope Janis Joplin is driving one of those in heaven.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
        57K would buy a middling level Mercedes

        I really hope Janis Joplin is driving one of those in heaven.

        Do you think that would make amends (for the lies)?

    • rickflick
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Mercedes? Rolls? I immediately envision oil rich kingdoms of the middle east.

      • Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        How ’bout a Tesla then??? I don’ wanz to burn oilz, ice juss wanz to go FAST!!!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          HAve you seen what most Middle East roads are like?

  3. GBJames
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    sub

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    “Can you become a better person morally? What would the afterlife be like constitutionally? Is it a material physical life, is it immaterial, are there institutional structures?” Silverman said.

    He’s been reading Deepak and got the word salad, but forgot the word quantum.

  5. Kevin
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Eric Silverman, are you going to persuade the afterlife into existence? You go big-E.

  6. Alex Shuffell
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Can anyone explain the point of the argument “because so and so are criticising me I must be doing something right”? Judges, the police and everyone else criticise criminals all the time, we criticise those who go have to go to the hospital because they have something stuck in an unfortunate place. We criticise ridiculousness and poor behaviour much more than we criticise someone doing something useful.

    • Joseph McClain
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      We used to say that when I was an editor of a small town newspaper in election season. Supporters of both sides of an issue or set of candidates would cry foul about our “unfair” or “biased” coverage. We always said if both the Republicans and the Democrats are mad at us we must be doing something right. In the same sense, I think this guy maintains that if believers and nonbelievers both criticize him, that adds validity to his work. I have to say that I don’t see quite how the concept applies in the instance we’re discussing.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        It seems to me that being criticized by both sides while publishing on politics is one of the few instances where you could consider that evidence that you are doing things right.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          It’s evidence that you’re following a median line between politicians.
          How the positioning of politicians relates to anything describable as “truth” is a separate question.

          • Posted July 16, 2014 at 1:12 am | Permalink

            Indeed. If the the political spectrum goes from -10 (the far left) to +10 (the far right), one may speculate that the ideal policy steers a zero course. But if your political parties are at +7 (I do not say Democrat) and +8 (Republican? Oh no!) and you (as an influential commentator) propose a +7.5 policy, you will be criticised by both, but it doesn’t mean you’ve you’ve got it right.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted July 16, 2014 at 3:39 am | Permalink

              Where’s that link?
              I’ve often parodied the oddities of describing politics on a single axis by describing myself as somewhere to the right of Atilla the Hun and rather to the left of Uncle Joe. (which would actually put me in the same region as classic Punk Poet Atilla the Stockbroker (having actually paid to go to several of his gigs, I don’t find the comparison upsetting).
              A while ago I encountered a site which makes an attempt to elaborate on this … discomfort … by positioning people on a two-axis classification. It may be worth a visit to the politicalcompass.
              I’ll mail Jerry separately – this might yield some interesting results, particularly with 25k readers.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted July 16, 2014 at 4:05 am | Permalink

                Almost 27k readers !

              • Posted July 16, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

                This should help people understand why I’m not at all impressed by protestations that I better vote Democratic or else the worng lizards will win.

                b&

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted July 17, 2014 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

                Hmmm, you actually plot more bottom-left than I do. Very unusual. Extremely unusual for a (pardon my British) septic.
                I don’t know how to arrange such things, but a poll to collect and collate the readers/ followers parameters may be very interesting.

              • Posted July 18, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

                Interesting. Using Ben’s link I land near the middle of the lower left quadrant

              • Posted July 18, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

                Same for me. A little lower left than Ghandi.

  7. Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    “immortal” invertebrates, surely? (first paragraph, and I’ll quit calling you that)

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      I like ‘immoral’ better. It just seems so unnatural for hydras to be hermaphrodites.

      • lkr
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Hey, be careful with hydras. You might get stinging criticism in return..

  8. darrelle
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    How in the heck do you study life after death?

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      With your overheated imagination. L

    • Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      From Monty Python… This You Tube link should explain it all. (1 min 20 secs)

  9. darrelle
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Ah, I see. It is an art project, specifically creative writing. I wonder if they’ll do a screen play as well?

  10. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    “Anything we come up with that’s likely to be true should be compatible with mainstream religion in general,” he said. “That’s what would we hope.”

    Surely whatever they find is merely metaphorical if it is supposed to cover mainstream religion, no?

    And surely this metaphorical study of the metaphorical afterlife doesn’t apply to literalists and fundamentalists?

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      “Mainstream religion” seems to mean Abrahamic religion, and perhaps mainstream Christianity. I see no room for nirvana or satori in their speculations, and I’m wondering about those virgins – or was it raisins?

  11. ploubere
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    As a teacher in a journalism school, I’ll offer my opinion that this is one of the strangest lead story choices I’ve ever seen, and one of the worst reported. First, this is the biggest news that day? 57 grand is not a particularly large grant, maybe worth mentioning in an inside brief. But more important, reporting religious beliefs as fact? Fail.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      Someone (the proprietor?) wanted some bad news burying that day?
      Check for 3pt type on page 58.

  12. Dave
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Of course, the students in the 1980s movie “Flatliners” DID set out to directly investigate the nature of the afterlife using impeccable scientific methods. Somehow, I doubt whether our philosopher friend has the courage to go that far…

  13. Alex
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I find this Immorality project very compelling. I hope they will teach us exactly what the LSD Celestial Kingdom is like. One question upfront, do check whether they have netflix and a decent library, if not, don’t bother.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      “LDS”, surely? It really isn’t clear in your context.

  14. Chris Walker
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Don’t they know that an Atlanta paper cracked this case years ago? They could have saved themselves 57K! David Cross has the story.

    NSFW language in video

  15. Frank Stabile
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    So basically Templeton is paying a group of philosophers and theologians to write fun stories and calling it science. Forget space and cancer, let’s make sure people feel warm and fuzzy when they go to sleep.

  16. eric
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    This $57,000 is an indefensible waste of money. But i have no doubt that some commenters will justify this kind of investigation

    I’m not sure it’s justified but I’m at least game to figure out how it might be. So, let’s think about the possibilities.
    1. If he’s looking for evidence of the afterlife or its properties, that’s better addressed through science.
    2. If he’s assessing how belief in the afterlife affects culture, that’s better addressed through sociology.
    3. If he’s assessing how belief in it affects individual behavior, that’s psychology. And/or perhaps economics (via game theory).
    4. If he’s delving into the theological meaning of a specific afterlife, that’s theology.
    5. If he’s comparing and contrasting what people have believed about the afterlife, that’s history.

    So what’s left? Well, I suppose there are three different places philosophy could still contribute.
    P1: interstitially. IOW, he could be trying to see if combining any of 1-5 above produces some new information at the intersections. Probably not worth the $57k.
    P2: internal analysis. He could be using symbolic logic to rigorously evaluate one or more afterlife claims and look for internal inconsistencies, as well as novel conclusions one can draw from current premises. This is clearly “in philosophy’s lane,” however, whether you think it’s worth $57 is up to you.
    P3: Cambpell-esque meta-analysis of afterlife beliefs, the same way Joseph Campbell meta-analyzed hero myths. Okay, I can see how that would be interesting. If he get’s a book like Hero with a Thousand Faces out of it, I can see how I might read it and think it was $57k decently spent.

    So Jerry, there you go. :)

    • Kevin
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Addressing this problem with science is the direction that one should take, or at the very least, making some assumption and fully developing the logical outcomes of that assumption, then repeat….

      However, the afterlife is, by definition, ‘out of bounds.’

      Consider studying life without life. That sounds as promising as studying physics without physics. My cats can do that.

      • eric
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        I am not sure where you get the socially obligatory “should” from. Its private money; they can pay for any sort of investigation they want, be that sociological, historical, etc… or scientific. The scientific doesn’t have to come first.

        I think what you’re trying to argue is that it would make sense to first establish that X exists before studying the properties of X. I agree. But as I said in my first post, there are many other things you can study about X beyond just the properties of it (such as, the way belief in X affects behavior).

        • GBJames
          Posted July 15, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

          When studying “the way belief in X affects behavior” you are NOT studying X.

      • GBJames
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        I don’t have a cat. He can do it, too.

        • Kevin
          Posted July 15, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          That is a clever cat, if ever there was none.

          • Alex
            Posted July 15, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

            Never say ever again, as J. Bond put it…

  17. Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Templeton has it all wrong. If they want results, they need to abandon all this “afterlife” business and sink that money into something real. . . like sandwiches. Take the $5.1M and give $51.00 to 100,000 researchers and implore them to develop the world’s greatest sandwich. $51.00 is a pretty good R&D budget for sandwiches.
    In the eternal struggle between numinous and pedantic philosophical minutiae and lunch, lunch usually wins, and aren’t we all the better for it?

    • eric
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Or for a recent example, potato salad. Based on kickstarter results, $57k for a study on potato salad would not be out of the question.

    • Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      I think that would be the Reuben. The big question is: corned beef or pastrami?

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        Reuben

        Rubicon? Not a river to be crossed! Not since some imperialist burned the bridge anyway.

    • Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      “The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?”

      – Douglas Adams

  18. Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    JM Fischer has collaborated with a Jesuit in many contexts to work on metaphysics-free compatibilism in the free will debate. Also, though it is gossip, when I met him at UBC, he claimed to be a secular thinker then … but that was 2000.

    As for the more general principle, philosophy, as much as I love it, has the problem with “constraint on philosophizing”. In my view, science, technology and philosophy (and even art, but I worked less there) are all of a piece and shade into each other; consequently investigating “the afterlife” is absurd. History-of-ideas on the subject, and how people came to rationalize inconsistencies and absurdies about it would be a valuable project and one that can be done with philosophical tools, perhaps. But that’s different: history of X is not X (in general).

  19. MP
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Rather than spending so much money, why not perform experiments on the lab animals or animals in slaughterhouse who are going to die anyway. Put them under a cat scan and extrapolate the results to humans.

    [quote]“Anything we come up with that’s likely to be true should be compatible with mainstream religion in general,”[/quote]

    Which religions are mainstream? How will these results applicable to Hindus who assume that the soul just passes from one body to another until it attains “moksh”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      Which religions are mainstream?

      Two :
      MY religion.
      Your religion.
      Others don’t count ; they’re not “mainstream”.

  20. Posted July 15, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Any last vestiges of a glimmer of hope of me being convinced of the potential respectability of philosophy have just vanished.

    That a “distinguished” professor of philosophy at a University of California campus can run a multi-million dollar ghost hunting project and people consider it legitimate philosophical inquiry…

    …damn.

    Jerry, if you were to forego your retirement so you could investigate the evolutionary origins of garden gnomes, what would happen to your reputation amongst your peers? What if Sean Carroll took a sabbatical devoted to developing a field theory of spoon bending and dowsing?

    That Silverman and his department have embarked on exactly such an endeavor and they aren’t the object of widespread concern and / or ridicule from their peers condemns not only them but the entire field.

    b&

    • Kevin
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      It is not necessarily Philosophy’s fault that people are gullible. Templeton aims their arrows of fortune at anyone willing, but only the weak accept.

      Silverman’s endeavor is better spent buying a burro and trying to get it to fly.

      And Carroll would never accept said sabbatical; that is as improbably (and arguably pointless) as the Trolley problem (which I think you agree should be buried for all time).

      • Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        It is not necessarily Philosophy’s fault that people are gullible.

        That’s not the point I’m trying to make.

        Sure, any field is going to have its wackaloons or other misfortunates.

        But, in respectable fields, those people are outliers and generally dismissed and not respected. See Pons & Fleischmann, for example.

        Contrast that with pseudoscience, where such cranks are common and respected and heralded.

        Philosophy, as a discipline, is demonstrating itself perfectly happy with ghost hunting as a legitimate philosophical endeavor worthy of serious consideration and respect. It’s not just one lone crank out there on the fringes barking at the moon; it’s the whole freakin’ UC Riverside philosophy department leading a multimillion dollar nationwide “multidisciplinary study.”

        And Carroll would never accept said sabbatical; that is as improbably (and arguably pointless) as the Trolley problem (which I think you agree should be buried for all time).

        Exactly my point — just as Jerry would never research gnome genomics. But ghost hunting is fair game for philosophers, apparently.

        b&

        • Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          I know that people take Fischer’s work in moral responsibility and so on seriously. I do wonder about the new project, though. If I were still in the business, I’d be motivated to try to find out … but now, I dunno …

          • Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

            I mean, take for example when Fodor released that silly book (from what I can tell – after I read the reviews I was not inclined to bother) about evolution, he got raked six ways from Sunday by the philosophers of biology, so there are some internal “sanity checks”. (I agree there should be more.)

            • Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

              But that’s just it. We have hard empirical evidence that the peer review process is essential to science’s effectiveness — and peer review extends beyond just journal publications to review boards and tenure grants and the like.

              If an entire philosophy department can go on a multimillion dollar ghost hunting expedition and nobody blinks…well, empirically, that puts philosophy squarely in the pseudoscience category.

              I would suggest that the people you’re referring to, the one with the rakes, were not philosophers, but biologists.

              b&

              • Posted July 17, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

                I remember Elliot Sober being involved, so that’s something.

                The problem is that philosophy is such a huge swath of fields, some only connected by loose family-resemblance ties if that. I always say it is worse than say, “music”, but that will do for now. Suppose some music theorist wanted to investigate how to develop notation for notes in the 100000 hz range. (“Music for bats” or something.) Would that affect, say, the study of music history? Or of scholarship about performance of some arbitrary instrument, say the bagpipes?

              • Posted July 17, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

                The problem is that philosophy is such a huge swath of fields, some only connected by loose family-resemblance ties if that.

                When even philosophers can’t agree on what is and isn’t philosophy…well, what’s there for the rest of us to take seriously, even if we wanted to?

                In practice, it’s just an attempt to cloak themselves in respectability by claiming for philosophy the fruits of disciplines that are themselves respectable. Philosophy is the love of wisdom — it’s right there in the name — and ____ is wise, so that’s philosophy.

                Yeah, right. And nuclear power plants are doing alchemy — and all science is Christian worship since it’s discovering the greater glories of Jesus’s Creation.

                Suppose some music theorist wanted to investigate how to develop notation for notes in the 100000 hz range.

                That’s not the analogy to make.

                Suppose, instead, some music theorist wanted to describe the actual music of the spheres, and wasn’t using that as a poetic metaphor for Newtonian (and Relativistic) Mechanics. As in, wanted to figure out what key the angels sing in, and to know what kind of mouthpiece Gabriel used on his trumpet. And, again, not as an anthropological study or for the purpose of creating an opera or anything like that, but straight-up serious investigation of that as a real phenomenon.

                b&

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    the research on “immoral” invertebrates

    Hey! Theologians everywhere resemble that remark!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      I, for one, welcome our “immoral” invertebrate overlords! The new ones, that is ; not the tired old arguments.

  22. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    This could be fun.

    As for ‘afterlife’, I just read that they now do experiments with suspended animation. Removing the blood of animals and replacing it with cold saline water plunges their body temperature to 10 degC. They can be given back their blood up to 1 hour afterwards, and show no neurological damage – remember learned behavior, and learn new behavior as fast as the controls.

    ““When you are at 10C, with no brain activity, no heartbeat, no blood – everyone would agree that you’re dead,” says Peter Rhee at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “But we can still bring you back.””

    [ http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140704-i-bring-the-dead-back-to-life ]

    Without brain activity they clinically dead (here in Sweden), or rather the clinically dead concept must be revised. (And I think it is, people must be at normal temperatures before tested for death.)

    But apparently the ‘afterlife’ didn’t intervene.

    What would the afterlife be like constitutionally? Is it a material physical life, is it immaterial, are there institutional structures?

    Since I am tired of pointing out the LHC killer app in this area of speculation, let me approach this another way:

    Unless ‘afterlife’ is chaotic (and per Stenger even then), it must have regularities. If it has regularities, it has conservation laws. And if it has conservation laws it has energy.

    Now there are two cases. I will show that the intersection, let us call it “The Gap”, is empty.

    1. ‘Afterlife’ doesn’t affect us in an interesting way. It has energy, it is non-interacting – it is another universe in a multiverse.

    2. ‘Afterlife’ affects us in an interesting way. We share energy properties, it is interacting – it is our physical universe.

    QED.

    Message to theologians: You can’t do gap-magic without a gap. And the union of gaps that was The Gap is all gone, as per above.

    In the article, Fischer avers that because he’s getting flak from both atheists and religionists he’s on the right track. As he says, “We get criticized from all sides, which probably means we’re doing just the right thing,” Fischer said.

    Squatting across the fence to The Asylum does not mean one is scot-free. And of course Fisher is insane to believe he is doing precisely that, while having both feet planted firmly in a soil-filled crackpot.

    • ratabago
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      ” ‘Afterlife’ doesn’t affect us in an interesting way. It has energy, it is non-interacting”

      There you go. Dark matter proves the afterlife!

      (Can I haz Templeton prize now?)

      • Kevin
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        But dark matter does affect us in interesting ways…mostly because we do not know what it is but we are pretty sure we can measure its effects.

        I’ve had loads of people tell me heaven/our souls are just dark matter. Interesting? We spend the remainder of eternity maintaining larger than expected local perturbations to the Cosmological constant.

        Horseshit.

  23. SA Gould
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    In Jujitsu class, we used to do choke outs for anyone who wanted to see what it was like. Many people said the experienced visions, etc. But not one of the attributed them to the supernatural…

  24. Kevin Alexander
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    Obviously a no-bid contract. I would have studied the afterlife for them for way less than $57k.
    I already have an armchair but maybe I would hire someone to make martinis since I would be thinking so darn hard.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted July 16, 2014 at 1:40 am | Permalink

      At 57k I’d hire someone to bring me all sorts of funny substances and empirically go through them.

      I’m sure heaven is in there somewhere. ;-)

  25. Faustus
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    “Can you become a better person morally? What would the afterlife be like constitutionally? Is it a material physical life, is it immaterial, are there institutional structures?” Silverman said. [JAC: I have no words to respond to this]

    “There’s a whole series of questions that are worth pursuing and really have not been dug into, at least not in a philosophical way in the past century,” he said.

    So $5.1m is to be spent on projects like this? I bet the remaining Monty Python team could produce a sequel to the meaning of life with that money. It would be about as educational as the projects they are funding, but it would have the benefit of being entertaining.

  26. Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Why stop here? Why not investigate the before-life too? There’s nothing in principle about an eternal afterlife that differentiates it from an eternal before-life. What were we doing for all that time? Were there institutions? Was it boring? And how did we forget about it? Inquiring minds need to know.

  27. Keith Cook
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    It takes 57k to finish where he started. No doubt he will flesh it out with some long winded words of, as you say, whoo and some will go wow. Some will wince.
    We do like a good story but this won’t be one of them.
    Good luck on finding nothing Mr Silverman


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28,531 other followers

%d bloggers like this: