Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Interesting Critique from Someone Who Has Actually Read Harris's FREE WILL

I just looked at a review of Harris's Free Will, by Russell Blackford (a writer with a couple of PhD's, one in philosophy)--a review that doesn't help me overcome my aversion to reading the book.

Blackford comes at the book from the standpoint of someone who actually agrees with Harris's criticisms of the view Harris explicitly attacks--but complains about the book anyway, for reasons that are, I must say, disturbingly familiar. Blackford's complaint is summed up in the following passage:
Harris may, indeed, have isolated one tendency in the thinking of some philosophers and some ordinary people. Perhaps he has met people who think about free will in a way that matches up with his definition, and I'm sure some readers will find that the definition rings true for them (the evidence suggests, remember, that ordinary people do not all think alike about free will - and philosophers certainly do not).


But Harris does not claim to be attacking one tendency, perhaps a dangerous one, in ordinary thinking or the philosophical literature. Nor does he limit himself to claiming (against the evidence to date) that it is the dominant tendency.

As far as he is concerned, he is writing about the true conception of free will, and anyone who disagrees is changing the subject. They are not talking about free will, he thinks, but only about "free will" - about an intellectual construction of their own making. That is almost the reverse of the truth, and if anything it is Harris who wants to change the subject by insisting on his own pet definition.
I say this critique is disturbingly familiar because, well, it has the same basic form as my criticism of Harris's attack on religion in his first book, The End of Faith. Here is what I said in Is God a Delusion?:
Religion, for him, is about scriptural literalism...Religious moderates are therefore represented as people without the integrity of their convictions, people who are simultaneously unwilling to accept where literalism leads (because of the influence of modern insight and rationality) and unwilling to accept where modernity and rationality lead (because of nostalgic attachment to the text).

We aren't led to this conclusion unless we accept the equation that Harris makes between fundamentalism and religion. Harris never considers the possibility that fundamentalism may be the perversion...He blithely equates religion with fundamentalism, and the rest is easy: fundamentalism is irrational; it has no resources for transcending itself. If religious moderation is born out of fundamentalism, it can only be because these moderates can't stomach fundamentalism but are unwilling to follow reason to its conclusion.

Had Harris offered, at the start of the book, a narrow stipulative definition of "religion," and said that he was only attacking religion in that very narrow sense, I would have praised the book for identifying a dangerous phenomenon and explicating precisely what made it so dangerous. But instead, Harris allows his attacks to sweep indiscriminately across anything that calls itself religious...
Apparently intellectual vices are hard to shake off. Or maybe when a fallacious way of reasoning works once (works in the sense of launching you to fame and fortune), there's little incentive to abandon it.

18 comments:

  1. Bernard BeckettMay 1, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    Eric

    Perhaps there's another way of looking at this. Isn't it a victory of sorts just to engage people in a discussion that they wouldn't otherwise be engaged in? If the only people who are allowed to write on philosophical issues are those with formal training in the subject, there is a danger of producing a hermetically sealed culture, where the communication skills of a Harris or Dawkins go unutilised, and the vast majority of the population do what they've always done with philosophy, ignore it.

    Probably the greatest written contribution to the popularistaion of science in the last two decades was produced by a non-scientist (Bill Bryson) and that's no bad thing. People need a way in to an unfamiliar subject, and academics, for a variety of reasons, seldom provide it.

    The trouble with the Blackford review, as I read it, is its overt engagement in a kind of intellectual snobbery (perhaps with its roots in envy?) Loads of people are going to read the Harris book, and in doing so engage with the issue of free will in a way they wouldn't otherwise have done. Why not applaud that fact, rather than sneer?

    Tellingly, Blackford isn't even disagreeing with Harris, rather he's running the 'of course, I'd have a made a better job of making the same point' line. This is undermined by his own set up, where he appears to be just as capable of being selective in his survey, and self serving in his definitions and assumptions.

    Sorry, but the school teacher in me rails against this sort of elitism, which ultimately morphs into a perverse form of anti-intellectualism.

    Bernard

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    1. Bernard,

      I agree with your main point here--as I had to grudgingly concede in my last post on Harris's new book. Likewise, I must concede that Dawkins and company have stimulated public discourse about topics in philosophy of religion that no philosophy of religion book has ever managed. And this is good for my field.

      Using a platform as a public intellectual to stimulate discussion is important--even if that means raising issues in a way that is deliberately more provocative and less precise/accurate than an academic treatise would be.

      At the same time, however, it is worth pointing out fallacies in those more provocative pieces.

      In the end, my deepest problem with Harris and Dawkins and others who excite such wide readership is that they so frequently espouse their views (a) with a degree of confidence that their less academically precise/more popular-level arguments don't justify, and (b) without acknowledgement of the fact that qualifications of their positions might need to be made WERE they to pursue a more rigorously academic treatment of the subject.

      The question is whether that kind of intellectual humility in one's presentation is compatible with a popular-level writing that excites interest and stimulates discussion. After all, part of what helps sell Dawkins' books is the very...swagger...that bothers me.

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  2. Sounds extremely familiar. Many - possibly most - atheist criticisms of religion I've come across (including my own, back when I was an atheist) seem to fall into the same trap of over-simplifying and shoe-horning the target and subsequently ignoring the complexity of the bigger picture.

    Though we probably shouldn't blame the New Atheists for this - it's a tendency is probably common in just about any debate in the human world.

    We saw it in how the Jews were caricaturised by the Nazis, or the Communists by the Americans. We see it when conservatives make a bogeyman out of social security, or when liberals do so with globalisation. Many Christians, of course, do it all the time too - acknowledging much more nuance in their own religion than they do in others (or in atheism).

    A Libertarian will look at a government and see an obstacle to justice and human freedom. A Socialist will look at the same government and see a vehicle for justice and human freedom. They see what they want to see, and of course they're both partially right, and both partially wrong.

    In fact, I suspect that most of the opinions that any of us hold about anything are at least partly rooted in this kind of distortion and over-simplification of the conceptual landscape.

    So it doesn't surprise me that an author who seems to have built his career on giving the answers, rather than seeking them, would make this mistake too.

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  3. Eric-

    It would be easier to accept your quibbles if the whole issue weren't that religion in toto, in Dawkins, et al.'s view, is bad philosophy.

    That is the whole point of the exercise and dispute- that religions, even those tame ones that make few scientific claims and are socially liberal (Buddhism, say), are epistemologically unable to support their clearly scientific assertions (life after death, reincarnation, ...) with anything other than intution. Which, while perhaps the fount of all ideas, especially philosophical ones, provides no philosophical warrant for belief. It seems reasonable to define "religion" by its wayward scientific assertions, (i.e. superstitions and unwarranted beliefs, i.e. faith, aka delusion), without which one generally calls a thought tradition something else, like a philosophy or a political party, etc.

    So to blame him, for instance, for the fallacy of equivocation because he illustrates the harm that philosophical confusion/conflation between speculation and belief can cause ... in false certainties and social snowballs to hell ... doesn't touch the main point or even make much sense on its own terms. it sounds like a defensive stalling tactic, really. Does he have to prove that every single religion that has ever existed is both false and also "bending towards evil"? Suppose that he grants that not all delusions lead to perdition; some even lead to charitable works ... he may have done so, especially with regard to his Anglican friends, I don't know. Would that make it all better?

    Additionally, to claim that psychologically compelled belief (in William James's sense) is "reasonable" is another thing Dawkins et al. are arguing against. Again, no matter the level of faith engendered by one's conviction and intution, it does not a logically compelling or even reasonable philosophy make. It makes the opposite.. an unreasonable, unreasoned, belief, however studiously back-filled with (bad) philosophical rationalizations. Sometimes, you just have to give up on an intuition.

    So you are right that philosophy is at the very core, and the contention is that numerous professional philosophers get the core issues quite egregiously wrong. Quibbling isn't going to help.

    Of course, that Dawkins is so egregiously wrong in blurbing for his friend Krauss doesn't help matters in the least...

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  4. All,

    This blog has been a huge distraction to me at work. The quality of the posts themselves, along with the entertaining and enlightening comments have kept me from being productive...at all. One of the things that makes this blog special, in my opinion, is the faithful commenting of the 'regulars,' many of whom come from a variety of backgrounds and all have great things to add to the discussion. I'm sure you all realize this already, however. I've learned a lot from reading the differing viewpoints of the educated persons that faithfully read and comment on Eric's posts.

    Perhaps I just haven't stumbled upon the posts where this happens, but I'm suprised at how the commenters rarely correct the infromation thrown out by Burk. Burk, I enjoy reading your posts, as they give me some insight into the mind of a naturalist, but when I see assertions like this nugget,

    "...epistemologically unable to support their clearly scientific assertions (life after death, reincarnation, ...) with anything other than intution."

    I find myself wondering. Surely you aren't implying that there is no evidence for life after death and reincartion? Obviously you don't find the evidence compelling, but to say that no evidence exists is just nonsense. How much thought have you given to Afterlife research, i'm curious? I'd enjoy having a discussion with you, whether on here, or on your blog, about the acutality of this research, where hopefully you can see that belief in the Afterlife does not go off "anything other than intuition," and is, in my opinion, completely justified by the evidence avaialble to us.

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    1. Pat--Thanks for this feedback. I'm grateful that the blog is such a rich source of distraction, and I'm glad that somehow I've managed to attract so many articulate participants to the blog.

      As far as the issue of afterlife research, I simply must claim ignorance. I don't know enough to comment on the range of research being conducted and the scientific merits of what is being done. It is an area I may explore at some point.

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  5. Eric-

    Let me take back some of what I said before. If Dawkins contructs his argument as .. religion is morally bad due to it being philosophically wrong, as proven by (cherry-picked) empirical examples, then yes, equivocation is a problem for him (and Hitchens!). His evidence is partial and biased, when in fact religion leads to many good works as well as bad.

    But at least in one instance, that doesn't quite seem to be what he is doing. Rather, he is attacking the logic of religion by pointing out it internal inconsistencies, in the Christian context. If god is eternal and good, then why so much bad behavior in the old testament? Why place any more credence in the new dispensation than in the old, if both were divinely inspired, but contradictory? Etc and so forth.

    One can indeed go on to mention the evolutionary argument. Those that Dawkins puts out are simple-minded in the extreme, ironically. I think better theorists realize that religion has strong positive evolutionary rationales, in generating group cohesion and dampening individualism, so that groups can do their powerful things, like killing other groups. So religion, whatever its philosophical content, is good in this sense as well.

    Then there is the argument about extremes. If religion leads to occasionally very bad results, even if on average it does no particular harm, that could be an argument as well. Take the communism example. Some people, surely, were happy under communism, with free health care, guaranteed job, etc. Yet we apply a broad brush calling it bad, due to its extreme malfunctions, like millions starved, occasional reigns of terror, etc. Taking a similar broad brush approach to "religion" obviously becomes a Rorschach process, due to its endless history and variation. So it does seem to be a weak argument, despite its flagrant and colorful examples.

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    1. "If god is eternal and good, then why so much bad behavior in the old testament? Why place any more credence in the new dispensation than in the old, if both were divinely inspired, but contradictory?"

      I would argue that this is again a case of cherry-picking, insofar as not every Christian approaches the Bible as this inerrant repository of divine revelation. Even if they take a holy book seriously, the ultimate foundation for their religiosity may be something other than allegiance to the holy book, something that can serve as a basis for critical engagement with the holy book's contents. In fact, I'd argue that most of Christian history looks more like this (even if the idea of the Bible as the object of primary allegiance has emerged in recent decades as a particularly influential model).

      Now we can, of course, critique the alternative foundations for religion on their own terms (challenging the coherence of the Roman Catholic's foundational allegiance to the Church magisterium as the repository of divine revelation, challenging the coherence of basing religious life on an exemplar who we come to know through a cluster of communal narratives whose purpose is to acquaint us with the exemplar as opposed to convey an array of incontestable facts, etc.).

      The point is that we cannot assume that just because there is a deep problem of coherence arising out of Biblical fundamentalism, we can conclude that there is something equally incoherent about those whose religious life is founded on following in the footsteps of the Jesus they seminally encounter IN the biblical stories (and, perhaps, also infer that they have encountered in their own mystical experiences and/or in the communal life of the Church construed as "the body of Christ").

      My big problem with Dawkins, et al, is that they tend to focus in on one problematic form of religion (or of Christianity) and treat it as THE paradigm on which all of religion (or Christianity) stands or falls. But that which falls under the rubric of religion (or Christianity) is too complex and varied for any such move to be sound.

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    2. But if you can so casually throw so much of your field overboard, what makes the rest worth paying attention to? What does it mean to "know about god", or know what god wants, or to have a seminal encounter with a dead person? What is a rational person to pay attention to? Geologists don't go around saying that half of their field is complete crap.. don't pay any attention to those geologists from the West coast.. they don't know what they are talking about.

      This is perhaps the state of play in macro-economics, where half the field fundamentally disagrees with the other half, (i.e. salt-water, fresh-water), each marshalling more or less rational evidence. But then both sides pay nominal obeisance to rational methods, and neither side touts itself as a system of belief/faith, rather as a practical endeavor to be judged on practical merits. And the field is quite clearly wrapped up in political and ideological battles. In any case, as a consequence, economics doesn't have the cultural influence that it used to have when it was more unified in its paradigm .. another victory for the merchants of doubt, I guess.

      Is one side actually right? In this case it is a very pressing question, since we can't live without economics in some form, whether good or bad. In contrast, we can indeed live without religion, so whether one or none of the endless flavors on offer is correct is far less pressing. One can await definitive evidence, for instance.

      This is quite apart from your remaining rationales, seminal or otherwise. One irony is that you use the same rhetorical method, cleaving Dawkins off from his supporters by attacking his weakest arguments, as he uses himself. We just have to turn to the remaining arguments and consider their worth in turn. Maybe somewhere out there, there is a religion that comports with both logic and human needs- the grail of the "reasonable religion" .. Hmmm, I can't say I have seen it.

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  6. Pat-

    I share your fascination, obviously. Thanks for paying attention!

    Obviously, implicit in a philosophical discussion is another discussion about standards of evidence. Perhaps my view is overly peremptory, but people in fields like psi and NDE seem to have spent so much time in the weeds looking for what they intuit that they have lost touch with what good evidence looks like.

    In short, rare anecdotes, tall tales, and overstressed statistics don't make for good evidence. I'd enjoy hearing your views on the matter- it is certainly a provocative field. Indeed, the old saw applies that it is an extraordinary field that requires not just mediocre, but extraordinary evidence. There has recently been an interesting back and forth about it on Salon. As for reincarnation, I have not even heard anyone argue in favor of evidence there. That would be interesting.

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  7. Burk & Eric,

    Thanks for the replies. Having been brought up in a non-religious household, I always had the notion that belief in the Afterlife is silly and irrational. It seems all too convenient that after one dies, THEN you go to the place with no pain or misery, etc. Or damnation. I always felt such beliefs must be motivational ploys, entirely unfounded. For some reason I never bothered to actually search and find out.

    After completing my undergrad, a friend of mine brought up a bestseller about a child who died and claimed to have 'went to Heaven.' I dismissed it out of hand, not knowing any better. It sparked my curiosity, however, and to make the story short, I read, and continue to read, the surprising amount of material that is in this field. While I've become interested in other areas in the 'atheism vs theism' debate, so to speak, research on the Afterlife is the keystone in my newfound theism. Clearly, evidence for the Afterlife does not entail God, but because of the nature of the tales brought back, it seems to be the options are either deny the evidence outright, or, accept the stories of the 'Being of Light.'

    continued..

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  8. Eric - I think the information brought back by NDE'rs fits very well within a more progressive Christian perspective as opposed to a fundamentalist one. I'd enjoy hearing your take on it. If you do get into this type of thing, I'd recommend Lessons from the Light, by Kenneth Ring. It's light as far as defense of the experience, but is amazing as far as application into ones life.

    Burk - As far as psi, I can't say. As far as NDE's, I must disagree. Now, since you didn't mention the word 'Blackmore' in your response, I'm going to assume, perhaps wrongly, that you haven't delved too much into this. If I'm wrong, then I apologize.

    Without going into too much detail, the evidence for the NDE is truly a global phenomena. According to a Gallup poll (I believe in the 80's), approximately 5% of the population has had a NDE or OBE. As is documented by most researchers, there are around 11 common elements, and experiencers will typically have anywhere from several to a 'full-blown' experience that contains them all. Typically it starts with an Out of Body Experience (OBE), then progresses through a tunnel, meeting deceased relatives, seeing the Being of Light, having a life review, and having the choice to return or not.

    Burk, as far as the good evidence you've mentioned, I'm entirely sure what you want the evidence to be. Similarity between accounts? Accurate out of body perception? Lucid deathbed memories? Child NDE's? Worldwide? For what it's worth - the majority of researchers believe in the authenticity of the experience, and many who go in attempting to find a natural explanation come away convinced. I struggle to think of more one can ask for when studying the potential journey to the Afterlife.

    In my opinion, it doesn't take many stories before you have difficulties explaining them away naturally. By in large, the 'verdical' experiences do it for me, and I'm putting together a site of my own where I gather all the best verdical NDE's into one collective archive. There are also further nuances to the experience, such as the 'perfect justice' (at least in my opinion) exhibited by the Being of Light during the life review session. It's a great answer to the question of accountability for the universtalist position.

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  9. So Burk, while the tales may be tall, the anecdotes certainly aren't rare, and there is no meta-analysis, like is often done in psi (if that's what you were referring to by over-stressed statistics). As far the old 'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,' I agree, but, first, I do consider the evidence to be quite extraordinary. And, you also have to be careful that saying isn't used as a way to consistently 'move the goalposts,' so to speak. You have to decide for yourself what qualifies as 'extraordinary.' I looked at the article at Salon. It goes without saying that PZ (and Keith Augustine, whom he cites) are not researchers. Augustine cites a lot of Blackmore, but given her book is decades old, their are problems with the hypothesis she sets forth. The story of Maria's shoe is obviously a very controversial one. If you follow the link on the site, it goes back to Keith Augustine's response, which he cites the research of a couple of members at CSICOP, if my memory serves me right. I'll let you decide if their analysis makes sense of the story - it's my opinion that it doesn't. Interestingly, Kenneth Ring knows Kimberly Clark personally, so he has some added details for the dissenters of the story. 'Maria's Shoe' aside, there are other stories that I'm sure you'd find, curious, as well.

    If you're interested, Chris Carter's book is a little more in-depth, you might enjoy it. Many of the experiences speak at conferences, and their stories are on YouTube. Each researcher has their own 'verdical' tales that they cite in their books, but that means you have to order the books. I'm trying to pull them all onto my cite, but I'm having problems writing because, well, I'd rather just keep reading about them.

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  10. One last point - much of the 'evidence' for God seems to be a lack of explanatory naturalistic evidence. We don't know what started the universe, allots for fine-tuning, consciousness, intentionality, etc, etc. That's why Afterlife research is important, because it provides that 'positive' evidence. It would make no sense to say that there is a 'gap' in our knowledge if you find mediumship evidence compelling. A guy I work with, an atheist, says he believes in the multiverse, and when I tried to tell him about Afterlife research, says he doesn't believe any of it. I found that really...interesting.

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  11. Hi, Pat-

    I am glancingly familiar with Susan Blackmore's work, but don't claim any special expertise. Nor am I terribly excited about reading more about it. I will await the field's Nobel prize award(!)

    All kidding aside, I recognize that there is a characteristic NDE experience. As you state, people's lives run before their eyes, a light is seen, serenity experienced, etc. I don't have any problems with this much, which is as you say reasonably common, even universal. It could very easily be how the brain "switches off".

    The controversy comes in with claims that people in this state suddenly gain super-powers like omniscience which they never had before. The subjective aspects of such experiences are common enough- in the twilight of sleep, upon taking certain drugs, etc.: the floating, and the integration of what is heard through the ears into vivid remembered imagery, the out-of-body feelings ... all that is understandable.

    The question is whether all this is the real deal in terms of actually showing disembodied human consciousness. Firstly, the commonality of such feelings during unquestionably not-really-out-of-body experiences, like last night's nightmare, is one big warning sign that we need to be very careful with such conclusions. So like PZ, your co-worker and others, I take the anecdotes you cite with very big grains of salt. Admittedly, I am biased to not want to believe them, while you seem to be biased the other way, and read about them enthusiastically. That is another warning sign, though a small one.

    So what would make good evidence? I heard about study being developed where a closed or hidden box would be mounted on the ceiling, with explicit contents that only an actually floating person would have access to, placed somewhere like an operating theater, I believe. I haven't heard any more about it, but that is very likely something the Templeton folks would be funding. That type of controlled, defined setup would be that way to do this, so people are not arguing later on about the visibility of the heal of a sneaker, etc...

    Another warning sign is just the overall nature of this field, like the psi field as well. A bunch of rather marginal characters beating away on what I see as a dead horse, year after year, decade after decade, fizzing with exicitement at every promising anecdote. We went through a similar process with spiritualism a century ago, then later on with UFOs. Sometimes great things come from such margins.. don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of a marginal economics school known as MMT.

    But it is the (maybe unfortunate) job of such schools to provide especially compelling evidence which will overrun the ramparts of apathy and derision surrounding the lame-stream media, as it were. That I have not seen from these fields.

    So, we have yet to get to first base here, really. The idea that this research is important to figure out the origins of the universe, fine tuning, etc. is frankly really overstepping the bounds of decorum and logic. On consciousness, I have to tell you that brain scientists are going to figure out consciousness long, long before the NDE researchers get there. Enormous progress has already been made, and they are steadily chipping away at this problem through the normal course of research, within the naturalist paradigm, which I truly do regard as very exciting. I hope you find the time to delve into some more mainstream work in the field. A good book is one by Rita Carter.

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  12. Pat-

    I read through an interview with Chris Carter that is a good take on where he is coming from. He seems totally in the tank as far as I can tell.

    "In the first place, the production theory – the idea that the brain produces the mind – has been convincingly falsified by the evidence. And holding on to a falsified belief is the antithesis of scientific thinking – it is ideological thinking."

    This is a remarkable claim. He is clearly supposing at the outset what has been so difficult to prove. The fact is that despite the antiquity & universality, as you and he note, of soul-based claims, naturalism gets to be the default position here because of its clarity, rigor, and support by evidence .. that if I chop off my head, I tend to die and not bother anyone any more. Proving otherwise is the realm of parapsychology, and I have to say, also para-science. He is a very intelligent fellow, however and interesting to read.

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  13. Hey Burk,

    Thanks for the response. You really hit it on the head with this:

    "The question is whether all this is the real deal in terms of actually showing disembodied human consciousness."

    That is the point in question. The OBE is perhaps the most (only?) really verifiable, testable, part of the NDE, so the way its treated is incredibly important. These days, I admit fully that I not only want the NDE to be true, but believe so with a degree of certainty that can make it difficult to appreciate the 'other side.' It didn't use to be that way for me, so I try and stay somewhat open-minded. It sounds like you feel the same with naturalism, and I think its healthy for people to be able to admit it. All that being said, I certainly would not want to be on the other side of the debate in regards to the actuality of this experience.

    As far as future testing, I believe your referring to the AWARE study by Dr. Parina, where results are being withheld for now. I'm obviously eager to hear the results on this, and all future research.

    You seem to lump all paranormal research into one big boat, but I think one should be careful about this. It seems unfair to those doing research in each respective area to disregard their research because another field under the 'paranormal' category has less success. I know little to nothing about psi research, so I cannot say, but if it has the evidence the NDE has, its proponents are certainly not beating a dead horse, in my opinion. So it seems judging fairly would be to take each area of research separately.

    As far as understanding the origins of the universe, fine tuning, etc, I was not trying to make as bold of a claim. I merely was trying to point out that evidence for the afterlife can be more helpful to some who see the theistic camp as merely plugging God in the gaps.

    continued...

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  14. Typically, when I discuss this with atheists, the discussion seems to reach a lull at a certain point. The atheist displays skepticism, and rightfully so, and brings up points where he is wary, or even convinced the NDE is not what it seems. Oh and a heavy dose of Blackmore quoting. All I can really say is that you should check it out yourself. I could start quoting stats, but from what I've learned, people accept things on their own terms, and it would be more helpful for you to hear it from the researchers than from me. I can't possibly do it as much justice as they do. There is a surprising amount of work to choose from, so finding some shouldn't be difficult. If you don't like Chris Carter, you can try Ring, Moody, Sabom, Long, Parina, Von Immell, just off the top of my head.

    I read the article you linked to by Rita Carter, and it does sound very interesting. If you're anything like me, you probably have a backlog of at least a dozen books waiting to be cracked open, or finished, so I'll go ahead and order it, but it'll probably take awhile to finish.

    In the first paragraph you say you are not terribly excited to read more about it. I can only assume you mean that you feel the evidence must be weak, otherwise you would have heard more. I felt the same way before I started. I can only assume you DON'T mean that the subject itself is intrinsically uninteresting. If there is a life after this one, I can only assume knowledge of that would be right up at the top of the list of things to know.

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