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I know I am on a bit of a tangent with all this Graham Hancock stuff, but I am working a 12 hour night shift and this seems as good a way as ever to pass the time.
So, Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer has published an article detailing his thoughts and criticisms of Graham Hancock's theories, more specifically in relation to Graham's 'Ancient Apocalypse' Netflix show.
Apparently, Graham will be providing his own defense, but while I have minutes and hours to occupy I'll give a few thoughts on Shermer's article.
To start off with, you might be surprised to know that long before I had even heard of Hancock (who I discovered through the Coast to Coast radio show ( West of the Rockies, you're on the air!) . The local library in Guelph, where I lived at the time had the actual physical magazine. Really good fun, mostly because although they were saying they didn't believe in all the cool stuff, they were at least talking about cool stuff.
Maybe a point to make is that as much as I believe in the importance of an open mind, having some skeptical instincts can at least keep you in line with the more plausible, or better thought out alternative theories.
Ok so on to my thoughts on the article.
1. Shermer 'steel man's' (as opposed to Straw Man) his article by sending Hancock a copy to comment on BEFORE the article is published: Classy move. Even better he doesn't call Hancock a threat to all existence.
2. Cherry picking data: I'd say Hancock does this, but its hard not to do, and there is a but to this that I will get to shortly.
3. Starting from a conclusion and working backwards: Well, actually Hancock really started out with questions. If he starts out presenting his ideas from a conclusion I suspect it is a function of what Hancock is professionally. To wit, not an archeologist or scientist (pseudo or otherwise) but as a journalist. What might be called 'starting from a conclusion' might also not be too far off from a 'Lede'.
4. But what about god of the gaps and patternicity and lack of hard evidence and too much Woo for any scientist (well at least not named Sheldrake) to take?: All good points, providing that the point of all of Hancock's endeavours is to be embraced by the mainstream.
I suspect he might be well chuffed if they did, but I think he might settle for not being demonized and being free of ad hominem attacks. Perhaps even pleasantly surprised if people in the field of Archeology or skeptical evangelism, would say "Not for me, (insert extraordinary evidence quote)" and moved on to wherever their hearts or trowels led them.
5. So you are admitting Shermer and all correct thinking people are right and that Hancock is wrong?:
Actually, kind of sort of, but not really. It comes down to the specificity of the burden of proof that science expects as compared to what might be acceptable in day to day life.
If we look at patternicity all it is saying is that the mind will try to find patterns. It doesn't mean that patterns never exist, only that both possibilities are present. In fact, the very fact that seeing patterns is a part of human nature, it would also make sense that we would intentionally create patterns as a means of communication or expression.
Of course, at this point we should look at the Skeptic's favourite 'get out of jail' card, Occam's Razor, which basically states that simpler explanations tend to be more likely correct than complex ones. This, I think is not a bad starting point, but there is something about Occam's razor that has always bothered me.
Let's say while shooting darts I throw a '180' (three darts in the treble 20 bed, and yes I finally got to work darts into this!) and I post a picture of it after the fact. Wouldn't the most simple and least complex answer be that I placed the darts by hand? I could protest as much as I wanted, but I would nary have ordinary evidence for my ordinary claim, never mind anything extraordinary.
By scientific standards of proof, I would be a cheat. Except, for one important detail, and that is I would have actually thrown the '180'. I might not even be able to repeat the feat at least with any consistency, but I will have still done it.
The real argument here, and maybe why Graham and Michael are able to agree to disagree in a more gentlemanly manner than Hancock and many of his other detractors.
The ultimate answer that might be unsatisfying to many is that I think it is fair to say, at this point in time Graham has not proven his case to the rigors of the scientific method. It also does not mean he is wrong, or, and this is where the biggest point of all lies, that he should be disallowed from talking about it and gathering his evidence, even if some is anecdotal or cherry picked.
I think the real discussion here is more about people being able to present ideas of an alternative nature into the public sphere without being hounded as some great peril to society.
An idea does not need to be irrefutable, in order to be discussible, or valid!
6. So, you actually believe Hancock's woo?: Believe sounds a bit too much like an act of faith, so lets just say I find his questions compelling and his theories plausible. I hesitate when it comes to psychic levitation and so on, but I am also open to non-localized consciousness, so who knows. Either way I am not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
7. Woah, were science guys, it is our sacred duty to reject Woo! : Fair enough, there are leaps that are difficult of a hardcore materialist to take. I would suggest that you ignore everything you might believe about Rupert Sheldrake and read his book ' The Science Delusion' not as a refutation of what you might believe, but as food for thought about the nature and history of science, and whether we live in a mechanistic or organic universe.
8. Honestly, we'd rather just read the original article: Can't say I blame you, so here you go...
Alternative Civilization and Its Discontents-By Michael Shermer.
Thank you for coming along with me on my time killing journey.
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