Monday, June 18, 2018

Scientific American - what the heck is this?

Today, Scientific American ran this on their blogs page.  This article calls to mind weird mysticism stuff like crystal energy, homeopathy, and tree waves (a reference that attendees of mid-1990s APS meetings might get), and would not be out of place in Omni Magazine in about 1979.

I’ve written before about SciAm and their blogs.  My offer still stands, if they ever want a condensed matter/nano blog that I promise won’t verge into hype or pseudoscience.


SRT said...

Saw this last night via Twitter. Basically did a massive, "Whut?!" in response. It is so far below their historical standards... I used to read their magazine as a kid (pre-internet) to learn stuff I wasn't able to get in school or anywhere else.

Peter said...

They definitely ought to take you up on that, but you might regret being associated with them if they do.

DanM said...

I notice that the bottom of that article is followed by this line:

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American."

I can only presume that some SA editor thinks this tag line is sufficient to cover his/her ass, when the time comes. Somebody ought to tell him/her that he/she is mistaken. Editors are supposed to exercise judgment, not publish any old woo that crosses their desks. Sheesh. I will remember to look to SA the next time I need to read THE TRUTH about aliens colonizing Mars.

J said...

It seemed like a pretty decent summary of some of the historical threads in the theory of mind (which is an active area of philosophy). The hook to dissociative personality disorder (and therefore, maybe, science) seemed a bit weak, but discussing some of the real issues in the philosophy of mind, for a popular audience, doesn't seem objectionable. I'd have preferred if they had advertised it more clearly as dive into philosophy, but it's a far cry from crystal healing or other kinds of woo.

Douglas Natelson said...

J, I like philosophy as a discipline, and the nature of consciousness is tremendously fascinating. That being said, constitutive panpsychism, in which one discusses conscious points of view of, e.g., the atoms in my coffee, crosses into mumbo jumbo. Cosmopsychism, in which you and I are dissociated parts of some universal consciousness (as are the atoms in my coffee), sounds equally silly. Sure, you could formally define consciousness in some bizarre way so that this fits the definition, but come on. I'm pretty sure my biosciences colleagues would argue that defining metabolizing organisms as dissociated components of some universal consciousness is contentless at best.

J said...

I take your point, and I don't really want to argue against it too much, because I probably agree with it. But philosophical problems often have a tendency to make one choose between silly answers, none of which is satisfying, as in the ship of Theseus. Thinking about consciousness and what it is can lead to either denying that consciousness exists at all or declaring that it must be ubiquitous at all levels (panpsychism) quite quickly.
I'm still not sure, as you said originally, why SciAm decided to write this piece. But I think it's easy to look at it quickly and declare it to be mumbo jumbo without engaging with the ideas underneath.

Douglas Natelson said...

J, fair enough. I hope we also agree that The Good Place is a great TV show that slips in quite a bit of moral philosophy, and Existential Comics is both funny and educational.

J said...

I've never seen The Good Place, but I've long enjoyed Existential Comics. This is one of my favorites. It also reminds me of the best advice I got when becoming a professor:
The first rule of academic fight club is: do not talk about academic fight club, or you will be put on the academic fight club committee.

Anonymous said...

American Scientist is better than Scientific American. A good article below.

Scientific American has declined in standards.
The above issue has article on Mass producing graphene.
Never come across chutpah articles in American Scientist.