Posts Tagged ‘Science’


Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

Of late, critics often accuse Donald Trump and his followers of being a cult. The problem is that they seemingly never define what a cult is, never define the characteristics of a cult, and of course never see how well Trump & co. match such characteristics. It’s time to do so.

Before I began writing AA: Cult or Cure?, I spent well over a year on research, much of it involving religious and political cults. I discovered that all cults, whatever their nature — religious, political, commercial (e.g., multi-level marketing scams) — have many characteristics in common. By the end of my research, I had discovered 23 separate characteristics common in cults; some cults exhibit almost all of them.

(Robert Jay Lifton in his groundbreaking and influential Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism lists eight cult-like characteristics; while I included Lifton’s characteristics in the list I compiled, I strongly believe that his book would have been better if he had included more such characteristics — ones I believe are obvious.)

Let’s see how many of the 23 Trump and his followers exhibit:

1) Religious orientation. Are Trump and his followers religiously based? Yes.

Trump’s core followers are conservative evangelicals. He received the votes of 81% of them in the 2016 election, and that level of support remains virtually unchanged. As well, Trump — who’s about as religious, and has about as much knowledge of the Bible, as the average poodle — routinely panders to evangelicals, flattering them endlessly and doing his best to ram through anti-choice, anti-LGBT judges and repressive, religiously inspired laws.

2) Irrationality. Are Trump and his followers irrational, do they discourage skepticism and rational thinking? Emphatically yes.

Trump and his followers are characterized by their ignorance of and contempt for science and rationality. The examples of this are manifold, with climate-change denial being the most obvious and dangerous. Climate scientists — who arrived at their conclusions through massive, decades-long research and application of the scientific method to the data they’ve gathered — are virtually unanimous in the conclusions that climate change is due to human activity (especially the burning of fossil fuels) and that it’s a dire threat to humanity. Trump and his followers irrationally and dangerously deny this.

3) Dogmatism. Are Trump and his followers dogmatic? Yes in the case of Trump’s followers, no as regards Trump himself.

Trump’s most fervent followers, evangelicals, Bible literalists, are by definition dogmatists. They believe (or at least insist that they believe) that a 3,000-year-old book written by Iron Age slaveholders is inerrant, true in every respect. This leads them to insist on absurdities, such as that the Earth is only 6,000 years old; that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time (or that the devil placed fossils in the earth to mislead humans); that, for that matter, the devil actually exists; that the sun stood still; that a dead man arose after three days and walked out of his tomb . . . The list of dogmatic absurdities goes on and on. In contrast, Trump himself is an amoral opportunist with no apparent beliefs who will say and do anything as long as he thinks it’s in his self-interest to do so.

4) “Chosen People” mentality. Do Trump and his followers have such a mentality? Yes.

Trump’s evangelical supporters routinely and self-flatteringly refer to themselves using terms such as “God’s people,” “the elect,” and “the righteous.” They also consider themselves above other people, especially atheists and muslims, with a great many evangelicals (and other conservative religious folk) saying they would never vote for an atheist or muslim for public office. Trump himself is a very privileged rich kid with a massive sense of entitlement. He was a schoolyard bully as a child; he believes he has the right to grope women — and has bragged about that groping; and seems to abuse almost everyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with him. Only someone who thinks he’s better than other people, who thinks he’s entitled to do such odious things, would do them. One might also mention “American exceptionalism” here, a belief apparently held by almost all of Trump’s followers and, perhaps, by Trump himself.

5) Ideology above all else. Do Trump and his followers elevate their ideology over experience, observation, and logic? Yes, absolutely.

Again, the most obvious example is climate-change denial. But other examples abound, such as the insistence that grossly ineffective abstinence-only sex “education” is the only type that should be taught in public schools; that a few cells the size of a pinhead are, somehow, a “person” (apparently in the same manner that an acorn is an oak tree); that massive tax cuts for the top 1% are somehow good for the bottom 99%; and that America is the land of “equal opportunity” in the face of gross differences in wealth and income and equally gross differences in the quality of education for the rich and poor.

6) Separatism. Are Trump and his followers separatists? No.

We might be better off if they were. Instead of being separatists, they want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us through the coercive apparatus of the government.

7) Exclusivity. Do Trump and his followers present themselves as the exclusive holders of the truth. Yes.

Trump’s core evangelical followers, biblical literalists, by definition consider themselves the exclusive holders of the truth. (The same holds for his Mormon and conservative Catholic backers.) Trump, with his constant blather about “fake news,” insistence that he’s the only source of the truth and should always be believed (despite his near-constant and blatant lying), and his bald-faced statement to his followers, “don’t believe what you’re reading or seeing,” is equally if not more guilty of this.

8) Special knowledge. Do Trump and his followers claim to have special knowledge that will only be revealed to the initiated? No.

Not unless you count Trump’s for-profit “university” scam, and that would be a stretch.

9) Mind control. Do Trump and his followers employ mind-control techniques? No.

Even Trump’s most hardcore followers don’t employ mind-control techniques such as sleep deprivation, deliberate near-starvation, hypnotic chanting, and thought-stopping techniques (e.g., reciting a mantra over and over again to ward off unwanted thoughts).

10) Thought-stopping techniques. Do Trump and his followers employ thought-stopping language? Not really. 

The childhood religious indoctrination of Trump’s religious-believer backers (evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Mormons), in which children are routinely warned that doubt comes from the devil (and, from my childhood, that you should pray the rosary to ward off doubt), is as close as you’ll get to thought-stopping language in the Trump movement.

11) Manipulation through guilt. Does Trump manipulate his followers through guilt? No.

Rather, Trump manipulates his followers through fear, hate, bigotry, and scapegoating. His appalling attacks on Mexicans and his fear-mongering about an “invasion” of immigrants is only the most obvious example.

12) The cult of confession. Do Trump and his followers use confession for purification and to tie believers to the movement? No. 

The closest any of Trump’s followers come to this is the practice of conservative Catholics who use that “sacrament” for purification and to tie themselves to the church.

13) A charismatic leader. Is Trump a charismatic leader, and do his followers treat him as one? Clearly, yes. 

I’d use many other terms in place of “charismatic,” but the adoration of the Dear Leader by his glassy-eyed followers is all too obvious. The fact that by their own lights he’s moral garbage matters not a whit to them. Nor do his constant, obvious lies and boasting, frequent self-contradiction, bullying behavior, and shameful self-serving. All too many of Trump’s followers worship him no matter what.

14) Hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Do Trump and his followers belong to a hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Yes, several of them.

First and most obviously, the Republican Party, which has been on a decades-long crusade to restrict individual rights (notably reproductive and LGBT rights), and which has likewise been on a decades-long crusade to entrench itself in power via gerrymandering and voter suppression on a mass scale — that is to entrench itself in power by destroying what passes for American democracy. As well, Trump’s conservative Catholic and Mormon followers (and to a lesser degree the evangelicals) belong to clearly hierarchical, authoritarian — “thou shalt”; “thou shalt not” — religious structures.

15) Submission of the individual to the “will of God” or God’s appointed representatives. Do Trump and his followers insist on such submission? Yes.

Trump, hypocritically so. But all too many of his followers are sincere in wanting to use the coercive apparatus of the state to force everyone to submit to that “will” (as they define it).

16) Self-absorption. Are Trump and his followers self-absorbed? Yes.

Trump’s narcissism and self-absorption could hardly be more obvious. It’s almost equally so with his Republican Party, with its phony, preening nationalism, and its amoral, ends-justify-the-means mentality that pursues permanent entrenchment in power no matter how foul the means nor how much damage to the country. The current attempt to steamroll the installation of a blustering, bullying, highly partisan, alleged (have to get that alleged in there) sexual predator and apparent perjurer on the Supreme Court is only the latest instance of the Republican Party’s self-absorption.

17) Dual purposes. Does the Trump movement have dual purposes, are its real purposes other than those it presents to the publicYes, absolutely.

This is very obvious in very many ways. Trump — who received over $400 million from his dad — presents himself as the champion of the working man, yet he’s intent on squeezing money from the poor and working classes, and what’s left of the middle class, and transferring it to the top. He just gave the largest tax cut in history to (primarily) the top 1%; he opposes raising the federal minimum wage; he opposes labor unions; he and his minions in Congress have partially dismantled Obama’s (grossly inadequate) healthcare plan and have offered nothing to replace it; and he opposes extending Medicare to all Americans, thus ensuring that tens of thousands of poor and working class Americans die from medical neglect annually. His “family values” followers by and large support his vicious policy of ripping apart immigrant families at the border and throwing children into cages. And Trump and those same followers demand “religious freedom” which really means the “freedom” to discriminate against LGBT people in public accommodations. The hypocrisy of Trump and his followers, their “dual purposes,” is simply nauseating.

18) Economic exploitation. Does Trump economically exploit his followers? Yes.

Sometimes directly, as with Trump “University,” more often via government economic and taxation policies which work to the advantage of Trump and his billionaire buddies and against the rest of us.

19) Deceptive recruiting techniques. Do Trump and his Republican Party use deceptive recruiting techniques. Yes.

In addition to hypocritically presenting himself as the working man’s champion, “Cadet Bonespur” Trump presents himself as the embodiment of patriotism. But Trump’s “patriotism” is the exact opposite of real patriotism, which is trying to do what’s best for the country and following one’s own conscience, doing what’s right in the face of disdain and abuse. For Trump and his followers, patriotism seems to consist of making a fetish of the flag (instead of honoring what it supposedly stands for), robotically engaging in submission rituals at the start of baseball and football games, military worship, impugning the patriotism of those with opposing political views, bullying dissenters, and, of course, “patriotic” bumper stickers. One might also mention the deception of Trump and other Republicans in posing as guardians of morality when they themselves are moral sewers.

20) Possessiveness. Does the Trump movement go to great lengths to retain members? No.

Cults often go to great lengths to retain members, doing such things as threatening permanent disconnection of family members who leave the cult. Trump doesn’t do this nor does he advocate it.

21) A closed, all-encompassing environment. Has the Trump movement created such an environment? No.

Many cults (e.g., Rajhneeshees, Branch Davidians, People’s Temple, FLDS) set up isolated environments in which they control all aspects of members’ lives. The closest Trump’s followers come to this is having a single primary news source (Fox News for 60% of them) and being immersed in the Facebook echo chamber where they hear almost nothing but views they already agree with. But this is a far, far cry from Jonestown.

22) Millenarianism. Does Trump prophesy the end of the world? No.

The closest he comes is dire warnings about what will happen if the Republicans lose power. But some of his followers, hardcore evangelicals, do prophesy that the end is near and are actively trying to bring about Armageddon (through enthusiastic support of Israeli militarism and expansionism) so as to usher in “the rapture.” Still, Trump is definitely not a millenarian himself.

23) Violence, coercion, and harassment. Do Trump and his followers engage in or encourage these things? Yes.

Recall Trump’s remarks that some of the murderous neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Then recall his attacks on the press as “enemies of the people” and his encouragement of violence against protesters at his rallies. Then recall the huge uptick in racist violence by his alt-right/neo-Nazi supporters since he took office. Finally, let’s not forget that some of Trump’s “right to life” supporters routinely stalk, harass, threaten, and occasionally bomb or shoot abortion providers.

IN CONCLUSION

So, do Trump and his followers constitute a cult? Many of the cults I studied while researching AA: Cult or Cure? exhibit almost all of the above characteristics: the Moonies 22 out of the 23; the Church of Scientology and People’s Temple 21 of the 23; and Synanon 20 of the 23. In contrast, community-based Alcoholics Anonymous only exhibits 11 of the 23, “institutional” AA  (the 12-step treatment industry, which I dubbed “Cult Lite”) exhibits 16 of the 23, and the Trump movement exhibits 13 of the 23, so it’s not entirely accurate to say that the Trump movement is a full-blown cult, though it does have distinct cult-like tendencies. However, and disturbingly, almost all of the cult-like tendencies exhibited by Trump and his followers are also characteristic of fascist movements.


Corrupted Science front cover“It was very depressing to realize that, when looking around for regimes that have systematically corrupted science within the past century or so, three stood out quite distinctly, head and shoulders above the rest of the herd: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Trump’s America. At times when working on the three relevant chapters, I had to remind myself which chapter was the one in front of me: the parallels between the three regimes, in terms of their rigorous attempts to trample honest science underfoot, are as horrifically close as that.”

— John Grant, referring to his upcoming book, Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised and expanded), scheduled for May 1, 2018


SCIENCE, n. A systematic means of understanding and describing the natural world. It is based on the scientific method. To simplify, that method consists of: 1) gathering as much data as possible on a phenomenon; 2) formulating a hypothesis to explain the data; 3) testing the hypothesis for internal consistency and to see if it is in accord with the data; 4) gathering additional data and seeing if the hypothesis is in accord with the additional data; and 5) checking whether predictions generated by the hypothesis are accurate. If the hypothesis survives repeated, long-term testing, it becomes a “theory,” as in “the theory of gravity” and “the theory of evolution.”

Another way of putting this is that science is a systematic method of arriving at the most probably correct explanations of observed phenomena. An important adjunct to this is that science is fact driven rather than belief driven. So, scientists are bound to accept the results of scientific investigation even if they don’t particularly like the results—if a pet theory is at odds with the facts, out goes the pet theory (eventually).

Thus science is the most powerful means ever devised of dispelling illusions. This is, of course, why it is almost universally despised in the United States.

* * *

–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

 


snakeoilcover

(Excerpted from Spiritual Snake Oil: Fads & Fallacies in Pop Culture, by Chris Edwards)

 

Fans of the late Michael Crichton’s science fiction (and I would count myself among them) might be surprised to learn that Crichton had a strong interest in the paranormal. In his memoir Travels, Crichton details a number of his journeys. Some of these journeys involved regular travel—to places like Africa—but others involved delving into various realms of New Ageism. At the end of his book, Crichton includes the text of a speech he had planned to give (though he was never actually invited to speak) in front of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). There are plenty of references to ancient wisdom, even a brief mention of quantum physics, but such things are not at the core of his argument. The point of the “speech” is to defend the New Age against pure scientific materialism, not by giving a rigorous argument in favor of New Age concepts, but by trying to drag science down to the same level as superstition.

Crichton’s essay begins by informing the reader that he is disappointed that CSICOP spends so much time debunking astrology, palm reading, UFO sightings and the like, since he doesn’t believe in these things, either. In that respect, Crichton is a bit like a liberal god believer who nods his head when the atheist debunks the Baptist or Islamic god, but continues to believe in some form of vague deity while considering the atheist to be a scientific fundamentalist, whatever that means. But then the attack begins:

I then said, Has anyone in this room had their tonsils and adenoids removed? Has anyone had a radical mastectomy for breast cancer? Has anyone been treated in an intensive care unit? Has anyone had coronary bypass surgery? Of course, many people had.

I said, Then you’re all knowledgeable about superstitions, because all these procedures are examples of superstitious behavior. They are procedures carried out without scientific evidence that they produce any benefit. This society spends billions of dollars a year on superstitious medicine, and that is a problem—and an expense—far more important than astrology columns in daily newspapers, which are so vigorously attacked by the brainpower of CSICOP.

And I added, Let’s not be too quick to deny the power of superstition in our own lives. Which of us, having suffered a heart attack, would refuse to be treated in an intensive-care unit just because such units are of unproven value? We’d all take the ICU. We all do. (357)

Crichton is quite right to point out that expensive surgeries are performed on people with little or no scientific evidence that those surgeries work. In an article for Skeptic magazine, Steve Selarno noted that the idea that modern science enhances longevity is largely a myth, since life expectancy should be determined by one’s current age. Among other things, Salerno pointed out that a 70-year-old man living in the Civil War era could statistically look forward to being 80, which was what a 70 year old living in 1950 could expect. Today, even with all of the new surgeries and treatments mentioned by Crichton, a 70 year old can only expect to make it to 83.5 years. The average age increases over the centuries emerge only when infant mortality is thrown into the mix. Likewise, Jeanne Lenzer and Shannon Brownlee, writing for Discover magazine, noted that nowhere in the world is there a systematic way to measure the effectiveness of new surgeries and that oftentimes surgery has the potential to cause more damage than the initial problem.

Here’s the problem with Crichton’s argument: modern surgery is not synonymous with the scientific approach to health, and no health care researcher would argue that surgery is a better option for heart care, for example, than regular exercise and a healthy diet, which is what scientific research tells us really works well. A person may have gotten himself into a position where he has a heart attack, not because he believes in science but because he has ignored the lifestyle advice that science has given him. Then, all too often, when someone finds himself to be in ill-health, he fails to do a risk assessment to decide whether surgery will be effective in his particular case. Instead of acting as if surgery is the only scientifically based approach to health, what Crichton should have done is compare the entire scientific approach to health, including diet, exercise, and emotional well-being, with surgery being a last resort in extreme cases, against the health benefits that New Age belief and holistic medicine have given us. Imagine the results if we compared the heart health of a sample of people who ate healthily, exercised regularly, and abstained from smoking with a sample of those who ate poorly, refused exercise, and smoked, but prayed to Vishnu and took holistic medicines.

Superstitious beliefs about disease have had their chance. They abounded for tens of thousands of years, yet no amount of prayer or ritual reduced the infant mortality rate. Scientifically based prevention has. Drastically.

Crichton goes on to write:

Next I reminded [CSICOP] that science as a field does not progress in a uniquely rational manner different from other fields of human endeavor such as business or commerce. Max Planck, who won the Nobel Prize in physics, said, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” (358)

This is not always, or even mostly, the case. There are many instances in history where a scientist has invested much of his life and career in a theory that turned out not to be very descriptive of the facts. When new facts disprove a theory, sometimes scientists choose to ignore the new facts. For example, when Galileo saw that the orbits of Jupiter’s moons could only be described with a heliocentric model, there were Aristotelian scholastics who refused to look through a telescope. Seeing the moons’ orbits would have required them to rethink not just their theories but their entire lives. If Aristotle was wrong, they would have lost all of their status.
The reason that there are paradigm shifts in science, as John Gribbin has written, has a lot to do with the evolution of technology. A lot of people looked at Jupiter before Galileo, but he was the first one to have the technology necessary for the assembly of a telescope (plus the engineering intelligence and the will) which was necessary to seeing Jupiter’s moons. Each generation has access to more facts, and therefore has to create new theories to describe those facts. If the theories are counterintuitive, that is only because our minds evolved to give us a picture of reality that helped us to survive in, not to properly understand, the universe.

New generations of scientists don’t “believe” in scientific theories because they are indoctrinated with them from youth. Instead, they do what their predecessors did: they examine evidence, new and old, and evaluate which hypotheses and theories best describe it; they then invest their lives and careers in fields and theories that are most likely to offer success.

Crichton’s argument also fails to note that, despite the decision of some scientists not to change their minds—many, like E.O. Wilson, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking, to use a few illustrious examples, do change their minds when presented with new evidence—science continues to progress. This is because knowledge accumulates and new scientists, trained to synthesize information and think creatively, continue to push the frontiers. The same cannot be said for New Age thinking. We don’t have better anything due to the “progression” of New Age or religious philosophy.

The next point Crichton makes is that science is just as likely as any other endeavor to fall prey to trendy, non-evidence based, thinking:

Next I pointed out the trends and fads of science, which affected scientists at every level. It was perfectly acceptable for dozens of the world’s most distinguished scientists to propose that our society engage in a costly search for extraterrestrial life, despite the fact that the study of extraterrestrial life is, in the words of the paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, “a study without a subject.” A belief in extraterrestrial life is a speculation indistinguishable from pure faith. (359)

Not quite. We have evidence for life. It exists on one planet that we know of, ours. The question, then, is simple: does life of any form exist anywhere else in the universe? Research on extraterrestrial life does not begin from a position of pure faith. There is evidence that life can exist on planets, so researchers look for more evidence.

Under Crichton’s criteria, a cancer screening is a faith-based initiative. I wouldn’t get a screening based on the assumption, necessarily, that I have cancer. Instead, my screening would be prompted by my knowledge that cancer exists and has been found in other people, therefore there is a possibility it could exist in a like body—mine. I would suspend my judgment until all of the evidence was in

The search for extraterrestrial life is hardly the equivalent of praying the rosary, and it’s grotesque to pretend that it is.
Next, Crichton tries to make the New Age immune to scientific scrutiny, by asserting that scientific rigor cannot be applied to mystical claims. (It seems like I’ve heard this before.) He notes the failure of a variety of psychics and shamans to perform their tricks in a controlled setting, under the watchful eye of researchers. Psychics explain away their failures by claiming that they can’t perform in such sterile conditions because they have to be “in the mood.” Correctly, Crichton notes that most scientists are unimpressed by such an excuse; then he offers a retort:

[E]veryone has firsthand knowledge of activities for which you must be “in the mood”: for example, sexual intercourse, requiring lubrication in the female, erection in the male. Creative work is another state-dependent activity that cannot be reliably performed on demand, as the vast literature devoted to “courting to the muse” testifies. (359–360)

While it is true that some forms of sexual arousal and creative thinking are state dependent, it is not the case that were we to ask people to have sex or paint in a room with people watching that they would fail every time. People have sex on camera or in front of people all the time; for some the presence of watchers is a turn on. Why are there no psychics who perform under pressure? Further, I find it hard to believe that Hemingway or Michelangelo would find it impossible to even begin their creative work just because a few men in lab coats were jotting down notes. (Harlan Ellison once wrote a short story while sitting on display behind a bookstore’s front window.)

Having decreed that science is incapable of studying the paranormal, Crichton then derides scientists for failing to investigate the paranormal more seriously. The supposed reasons for this have mostly to with “intellectual prejudice” amongst scientists, who simply refuse to study the work of less educated mystics who think differently. Interesting. I wonder if there are any cases in history where mystics and religious leaders have oppressed people who thought rationally.

Also, Crichton asserts, scientists don’t look into paranormal claims because they seem to “contradict known physical laws.” This isn’t it at all. The problem is that mystics of all stripes fail to provide enough consistent evidence to warrant an investigation. If psychics want respect, then I suggest that they get themselves “in the mood,” then post their revelations online the day before a big event, such as an earthquake or tsunami. If the specific predictions (where and when) of even a small number of “psychics” were correct, their “psychic abilities” would almost certainly be subjected to thorough scientific vetting. Until then, scientific investigation of the paranormal is a waste of valuable time and resources.

For some reason, Crichton goes on a long tangent about a mythical man named George and asks how much we can really know about the man other than, say, his measurements. He writes:

This, in essence, is the problem with the scientific view of reality. Science is a kind of glorified tailoring enterprise, a method for taking measurements that describe something—reality—that may not be understood at all.
Science is very good as far as it goes. It has certainly produced powerful benefits. It would be crazy to abandon science, or to deny its validity.

But it would be equally crazy to think that reality is a forty-four long. Yet it seems as if that is what Western society has done. For hundreds of years, science has been so successful that the tailor has taken over society. His knowledge seems so much more precise and powerful than knowledge offered by other disciplines, such as history or psychology or art.
But in the end one can be left with a nagging sense of emptiness about the creations of science. One may even suspect that there is more to reality than measurements will ever reveal. (366–367)

Science is merely the enterprise of trying to use evidence to create theories (languages) which describe how the universe works. History works the same way. Historians collect evidence and then try to create narratives which best fit that evidence. New evidence can alter accepted historical narratives just as surely as it can change a scientific paradigm. Historians often debate over which theory best describes the evidence. This does not mean that there are other ways to “intuit” the past or that history is somehow limited in its means of description.

This false proposition is Crichton’s constant mistake. He later writes:

 [T]he experience of these other forms of consciousness seems to me to be ordinary, even mundane. These different forms of consciousness—whether inborn gifts or trained procedures—lead to other kinds of knowing, other perceptions of underlying order in the world around us. They are not mathematical perceptions, but they are perceptions nonetheless. Before you dismiss these perceptions as outright fraud or fantasy, it seems useful to experience them firsthand. If you’re not willing to experience them firsthand, you open yourself up to the criticism that you dismiss what you don’t understand.

And you diminish your own experience of reality. (373)

There’s no reason for me to try to experience mysticism first hand. There are billions of people every day who try to induce an otherwordly experience for themselves. What I am interested in is whether or not there is anything of value in these experiences. Not a single useful idea concerning physical reality has come from such experiences in all of history—the gods never tell their prophets about neutrinos. And the social ideas generated by such experiences have caused enormous misery. So I am not tempted to try them.

Crichton insists that science alone is not sufficient to understand and interpret the world. The reason for this, he insists, is because science can’t answer the “why” questions. Such as “Why are we here?” “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The fact that there are no reasons, and therefore no answer to the “why” questions, does not disprove science. It merely means that the questions themselves are meaningless. Religion is no better at answering these questions. Bear in mind that for thousands of years religions have been telling people that they and the world exist merely to play out a “faith or hell” game with an almighty trickster. Some answer.

Crichton’s “intellectual” defense of mysticism and the New Age seems sincere, but is badly misguided and based upon false analogies rather than outright fallacies. Such a distrust of science is implicit in some of his best known novels, but those were fantasies, harmless and entertaining. The New Age is neither.