Enlightenment 2.0 (Updated)

blake_resized.JPG Last week, the New York Times ran this piece by an English professor about the haunted house in which she grew up. The first line is, “The house in which I grew up was haunted by a cloud of cold mist, a mysterious woman in white, and an entity we called ‘the conductor,’ since he walked around wearing a mourning coat and carrying a baton in one hand.”

I get it: it was Halloween. Yet, the story is presented as non-fiction and the author seems quite earnest about her belief in ghosts (though possibly retreating a bit at the end of the story). I doubt that the New York Times would run a similar piece by a person who thinks that he was abducted by space aliens or that George W. Bush orchestrated the attacks on 9/11. Perhaps belief in ghosts receives special license. A 2005 Gallup poll found that 37% of adults in America believe in haunted houses. Even with a biased sample, that’s a high number.

The prevalence of supernatural beliefs was a major theme at a conference that I spoke at last week at the Salk Institute entitled, “Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0.” The conference was broader in scope than it was last year, presenting a variety of perspectives on the role of reason in the formulation of our beliefs. Participants included Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Pat Churchland, Jonathan Haidt, Jeff Hawkins, V.S. Ramachandran, David Sloan Wilson, and many others. Here’s a link to the conference website, where video from the conference should eventually appear.

UPDATE: Here is a link to an article about the event at New Scientist.

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2 Responses

  1. greglas says:

    >> I doubt that the New York Times would run a similar piece by a person who thinks that he was abducted by space aliens or that George W. Bush orchestrated the attacks on 9/11.

    Because I think the house ghost is considered less threatening to the realms, respectively, of science and politics, which, for legitimate institutional reasons, demand that higher standards of evidence back up any factual assertions that threaten to destabilize the truth claims made in those fields.

    To believe in ghosts generally doesn’t threaten those who wield power — hence there’s less likelihood of being called to account for the belief, and people are freer to engage in the belief, if they choose to do so.

  2. >> I doubt that the New York Times would run a similar piece by a person who thinks that…George W. Bush orchestrated the attacks on 9/11.

    Well maybe not George Bush but I can see a piece instead naming Dick Cheney making it past all kinds of editors at the Times…