October 27, 2003

Fresh from that thing about them greedy, violence-lovin’ jews (for which he paid a big price), Gregg Easterbrook posts something about God. We all know that bloggers say posts from people they like are “characteristically insightful.” Here we have Gregg Easterbrook being atypically sophomoric. Again.

But the article left out the really interesting part, which is what the question of other dimensions says about the spiritual debate.

By “the spiritual debate” I believe Gregg means “the question of the existence of the omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God of Christian theology.” Or perhaps he just means the question of the existence of an ineffable immaterial something-or-other that would automatically give our lives meaning and distract our attention from the cold grave that awaits us all. I’m not sure.

At Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and other top schools, researchers discuss ten unobservable dimensions, or an infinite number of imperceptible universes, without batting an eye.

Cosmologists and astrophysicists are indeed known for their ability to come up with quite striking hypotheses of this sort. Though in this case they may have been anticipated by philosophers.

No one considers discussion of other dimensions to be peculiar. Ten unobservable dimensions, an infinite number of invisible parallel universes—hey, why not?

Well, lots of people have considered them very peculiar indeed. But never mind. And then there is the whole thorny issue of the arguments one might offer to support such ideas and the degree to which they help explain facts about the world as we know them and hence make their pecularity bearable, or a bullet worth biting as philosophers just love to say.

Yet if at Yale, Princeton, Stanford, or top schools, you proposed that there exists just one unobservable dimension—the plane of the spirit—and that it is real despite our inability to sense it directly, you’d be laughed out of the room. Or conversation would grind to a halt to avoid offending your irrational religious superstitions.

Now, Gregg probably thinks he has just given his readers an example that supports his argument. See, there goes the God guy, laughed out of the freakin’ room. Shocking. There’s the embarrassed silence after God guy has spoken up, as everyone waits to get back to talking about multiverses and invisible dimensions for which not a shred of evidence exists because that is science. Unbelievable. At the best schools in the country, too. I swear I saw this in a movie once.

Sadly, what has in fact happened is that Gregg just made something up out of thin air in order to shore up his earlier assertion. Discussions about the the “plane of the spirit” (again, I think Gregg is thinking about something much more specific than that phrase suggests) take place all the time at all the top schools. When they take place in the dorm room at 3:20am after a game of beer pong, they sound a lot like Easterbrook does in this post.

To modern thought, one extra spiritual dimension is a preposterous idea, while the notion that there are incredible numbers of extra physical dimensions gives no pause.

Not a single goddamn pause! Dude, that is just so frickin’ ironic. I mean, it’s like, the same thing, man. *The very same thing*! And they just don’t see it. Write that down. Write that down now. I gotta tell Professor whatsherface about this tomorrow, if I make it to class.

Propelled by the high elasticity of our invented example, our vague generalization accelerates towards the sweeping conclusion which must inevitably follow:

Yet which idea sounds more implausible—one unseen dimension or billions of them?

QED! Slam dunk! Either you are all modernist scientistic fools whose theories are built on sand, or my God exists! Or both! Muahahaha!

Actually, taken together, this post and the one about the Jews show the problems with naive falsificationism as a philosophy of science. I believe, based on previous observation, that Gregg Easterbrook is a smart guy. But here we have two empirical cases that clearly falsify this belief. But do I abandon it? No. Instead, I start coming up with auxiliary hypotheses to protect the main one: Gregg is having a bad week. Gregg is drunk. (But the item was posted at 9:58am!) OK, OK, Gregg hasn’t had any coffee. Whatever it takes. But I’m wondering how much more evidence needs to accumulate before the paradigm shift happens.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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