Dorchester Evening

Senior Dignitaries of Dorchester Rotary Club

I was in Dorcherster, England last night giving the last of my public lectures on SuperSense – yes that’s right – I’m done with that shtick and thinking of new projects and greener pastures for the coming year. It was a cracking turn out of about 400 most elderly people.  It was co-sponsored by the local Rotary Club (could not have been more courteous) who took lots of photographs of me shaking hands with local dignitaries.. I guess they don’t get that many celebrities in Dorchester…;)… Midway, an elderly gentleman “took a turn” and had to be taken out so I hope it wasn’t my cannibal stories. I even had to modify my smutty jokes and discussion of absorbing youth through essential sex. Oh well, the audience bought a decent number of books to sign and they genuinely seemed to enjoy my act.

The Wessex Hotel where they put me up was very fine but obviously catered for the more senior citizens – still it was nice to have a four-poster bed. But what caught my eye on the way up to my room, were the local tourist brochures. Dorchester was hosting the “World Renowned Tutankhamun Exhibition”and there was also a unique museum dedicated to the Chinese “Terracotta Warriors.” Maybe I had misjudged sleepy Dorchester! I would have time to visit these magnificent museums in the morning.

However, when I went to check booking online I found out that although King Tut’s was a “spectacular unforgettable experience – spanning time itself,” it turns out that everything in it was reproduction. And the Terracotta Warriors Museum housed treasures that had been replicated in China – NOT TO BE MISSED! Needless to say, I didn’t bother going. But why? Why do we value the authentic and reject the reproduction? Well, if you have been following the blog or have read the book,  you know the answer by now. No wonder they were delighted to see a real-live lecturer. Anyway, thank you Dorchester.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Dorchester Evening

  1. It was an interesting talk, Bruce.

    Although I was left a little perplexed that you appeared to sidestep discussion of the most controversial of supernatural beliefs which are religious and existential ones. I’m guessing your strategy there was to avoid getting sucked into arguments where people tend to be sensitive, but even so it seemed to me to be notably absent.

    The other thing I wondered about was the matter of how although our intuitive beliefs and sensory data can be misleading, it can also be helpful and constructive. Although as scientists we must apply a measure of doubt and scepticism to all our findings, in the practical matter of living our lives we inevitably have to operate on the basis of information which is incomplete and partial and perhaps even wrong.

    And in facing up to the “god question”, we have to somehow address the mystery of why there is anything rather than nothing and also the category mistake of using exterior language in charting the territory of interior spaces.

    I did think your discussion of thinking in terms of “essenses”, and its extension in your previous blog post “dead hand of plato” pointing out how we are steeped in this way of viewing the world is very useful.

  2. brucehood

    You are right Andrew, I deliberately did not discuss religion in depth. The audience was mostly retired couples in their twilight years. I did not want to “explain away ” or challenge what for many of them may be extremely important beliefs systems. What would have of been the value of that? I think that one needs to choose one’s battles carefully and adapt accordingly. Michael Shermer has recently made a similar point about being an accommodationist. I think that it is ineffectual and can be counter-productive to go in with an intransient position.

    Another audience member emailed me yesterday to say that his wife had bought him the book some time ago but he hadn’t started to read it because of the blurb saying if you like Dawkins, you’ll like this. He emailed to say that my approach had inspired him to read it. I think my approach is more likely to help people change their own minds by placing the emphasis in a less confrontational us v them mentality – or at least I hope so.

    Also I think that natural explanations for religion have been done to death and I prefer to concentrate on secular beliefs precisely because they are difficult to reconcile with the indoctrination hypothesis. Religions do require cultural transmission but they build on natural inclinations that arise in children – I hope I made that clear but I did not labour the point.

    Religions are also extraordinary complex belief systems that operate in a number of ways. You will remember that a lady did ask me in question time about how I account for religion. What was I to answer? To say that they all have the same basic origins and mechanisms would have seemed too naive and simplistic. That would have required another lecture on religion so I ducked the question for the reasons above. I also ducked the opportunity to demolish the remark about someone loving his wife as that would not have gone down too well with most of the audience. Somethings are sacred! These are sensitive issues that need to be tailored to your audience or you lose them and they go away unhappy. My purpose is to educate in an entertaining and engaging way rather than preach to the converted or the heathens – but I have discovered during this year of public lectures – you can never please all of the people, all of the time

    Thanks for coming along.
    Bruce

  3. There’s a place for both approaches, as I have blogged about before. You are almost certainly right that your approach is more likely to get people to modify (or at least be more aware of) their own beliefs. On the other hand, the more “intransient” approach I think has the advantages that a) it is more effective at getting people who already have discarded religion to be forthright about it, rather than concealing their (lack of) beliefs out of fear or a misguided idea of respect or tolerance; and b) it pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable, making more room for the more “accomodationist” approach.

    I suppose in a way there is “strong accomodationism” and “weak accomodationism.” Bruce is probably an example of the latter, in that he feels the need to be conciliatory towards religion, but doesn’t demand that others do so. Chris Mooney would be more along the lines of “strong accomodationism”, in that he is always exhorting other people to be more conciliatory. I don’t agree with that.

  4. My reason for thinking that it is a good idea to challenge religious, spiritual and existential beliefs, is that if it is done in a gracious kind of way, it can allow for a deeper spiritual experience rather than a reduced one.

    It has for a while now seemed to me that path of spiritual enlightenment is largely a process of giving up beliefs rather than adopting new ones, and perhaps even having beliefs forcibly removed from us.

    Although I am sceptical of anyone who claims not to believe anything (which I find is not so easy) I do think that on a broad scale this is the process and direction of travel.

  5. Bruce,
    Congratulations on having such a wonderful turnout for your final lecture on Supersense. I cannot imagine how the past year (has it really been that long) has been for you on the lecture and promotions circuit, but I am so happy that your book has been such a success.

    You will have to keep us posted on your greener pastures.

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