So this afternoon, I was surfing this grand World-Wide-Waste of time that is the internet, and somehow came across John Cleese’s blog. Like, really, the man himself has a blog. I thought all my Christmases had come at once, and was instantly setting myself up for a great afternoon of relaxing at home with John.
I liked the three or so comedy podcasts so much, that I decided that I would fork out the horrendous sum of US$1 to download his recent Headcast. It was not at all what I had been expecting, but it was thoroughly interesting. So much so that I think it really is worth the download. And interesting enough to make a few notes on.
Cleese starts by giving an example of “a scene where Gallileo was standing there with members of the church and Gallileo was saying ‘Please look into my telescope and you will see the craters on the moon.’ And the church guys were saying ‘Well we don’t need to look into your telescope, because we know there are no craters on the moon.’ And he said ‘Yeah but if you will just look, you’ll see them,’ and they said ‘Well we don’t need to look because we know that they’re not there.’”
Cleese goes on to begin his discourse on filtering and evaluating evidence, motivated, as he says, by the fact that it wasn’t actually members of the church that said these things to Gallileo, it was “academics, sort of scholastic philosophers”.
Cleese at 9:02 – The old idea of people ignoring evidence, which is we know everybody does it – that we do it ourselves – we kind of think that scientists are these very rational people who, um, examine, ah, evidence, and, and, explore hypothesis and theories in a very sort of calm, unattached, distant way. No emotion involved, you know, just intellect. And that of course is nonsense. Because even scientists are deeply emotionally attached to the paradigms that they happen to believe in.
Cleese then gives an example of a friend Stan Groff, who had a conversation with cosmotologist Carl Sagen about cardio-surgen Michael Sabom’s research and book about studies into near-death experiences of his patients. Groff tells Sagen about a particular incident of one of Sabom’s patients’ near death experience where the patient was able to recount in intricate detail the entire surgery procedure while he was incapacitated and unconscious during the operation.
Cleese explains that Groff asked Sagen how he would explain this phenomenon based on his materialistic world view. That is, how can he explain the research and studies outlined in cardio-surgeon Sabom’s book.
At 11:45 of the Headcast, Cleese continues to read from Groff’s text about his conversation with Sagen.
After a long pause Sagen said assertively ‘This, of course, did not happen…there are many cardio-surgeons in the world, no one would have known this guy so he made up a wild story to attract attention to himself. It’s a PR trick.’ (Groff laments that) Carl’s last words seriously undermined the respect I had for him and I realised that his worldview was not scientific, but scientistic. It had the form of an unshatterable dogma that was impervious to evidence.
Cleese at 12:50 – To what extent do we all do that? I think we do it a lot. I think we basically build up our beliefs without really examining them, when they are really quite young. We kind of think that we’re…Conservatives or Socialists…we’re Republicans or we’re Democrats. Or we decide we believe in God or we don’t believe in God. And then for the rest of our lives, we tend to filter all the information that’s coming back to us, all the feedback, so that we only take in the bits that confirm this view that we already have, and we carefully get rid of all the bits that contradict the view that we already have.
Cleese goes on further for the remainder of the Headcast speaking about his views on the filtering of information by our education, media, and society. He gives examples of battles in wartime that school children are taught in differing countries (only the victorious battles for each respective country are taught in each respective country), he talks about the Opium wars in China, and also talks at length about Dick Chaney and Iraq, and how he actually seem to believe in the worldview they propose.
He also speaks about “the biggest oxymoron of our time; Fox News.”
This great podcast made me think about a conversation I had far too late last night with a man I only just met the other day, about evolution. He mentioned something that I had never heard before, the gist of which was that one of the major reasons that evolution does not hold up as a strong concept of how the world came about, at least from a biological perspective, is because there has never yet been any confirmed case of a genetic mutation creating new genetic information, which, as I understand from talking to my friend, is what must be assumed should we consider that life forms changed over the years into new, vastly different life-forms.
Now I am not even remotely capable or knowledgable enough to be able to hold my own in a discussion about the evidence for and against evolution. The reason I bring it up however, is because The John Cleese Headcast made me consider the following…
What’s the most well-known alternative to evolution (as believed by many)? God made it. Now, this idea is not acceptable to those who have a worldview of ‘matter is all there is’ in the universe. For one holding to that worldview, that explanation is too simplistic.
If we are to bring me, Rob Thomson, into the conversation at this point, I have to admit that I want to believe that evolution is not the answer, because it gives more credence to my prefered worldview of a creator creating all there is. And how much of my wanting to believe something is actually holding me back from critically and open-mindedly evaluating evidence for and against so many of the issues that we face everyday as humans (not just existential questions like the origin of species). And since my identity is part-and-parcel with my worldview, I have often in the past, and still do, do exactly what John Cleese alluded to in his Headcast:
I think we basically build up our beliefs without really examining them, when they are really quite young. We kind of think that we’re…Conservatives or Socialists…we’re Republicans or we’re Democrats. Or we decide we believe in God or we don’t believe in God. And then for the rest of our lives, we tend to filter all the information that’s coming back to us, all the feedback, so that we only take in the bits that confirm this view that we already have, and we carefully get rid of all the bits that contradict the view that we already have.
So what do I do?
I think the answer is that I have to think for myself.
I have to accept what my experience (especially the last two years of travelling) is telling me about the world. That is, that my upbringing, my culture, my way of life, my worldview, is not universal.
And at the very least, I have to be sensitive to that fact that I am not the center of the universe.