Jennifer Michael Hecht - Doubt

November 28, 2008

Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of award-winning books of philosophy, history, and poetry, including The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and AnthropologyDoubt: A HistoryThe Happiness Myth, and her book of poetry, Funny, which Publisher’s Weekly called one of the most original and entertaining books of the year.  

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Hecht talks about the relationship of her book Doubt: A History to the books of the New Atheists, if media reception of the New Atheists was "gendered," and in what sense her book is "less evangelical" than theirs. She explains what she means by the kind of doubt she believes in, how it is broader and deeper than mere disbelief, and the ways in which doubt can feed belief. She explores the implications of doubt for scientific inquiry, and how doubt should be applied to the questions and the certitude that some scientists and skeptics express. She talks about the importance of art, poetry and psychoanalysis for doubting, and how such forms of introspection and expression increase the benefits of doubt. And she reveals some her favorite doubters in history, and what she learns from them.

Books Mentioned in This Episode:


Related Episodes

Christopher Hitchens - God Is Not Great
July 6, 2007

Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

This interview started out with Ms. Hechts confusion over why she was not considered one of the “new atheist movement” authors, and then she proceeded to show exactly why those types of people would dismiss her a little. She can hide behind that “brotherhood” underground stuff all she wants, but look at the way she dismissed science when Mr. Grothe spoke of it as being accumulative, and then proceeded to tell me to seek out truth from poetry and meditation? Well I do not know how to type the sound of flatulent noises but thats the sound I make while holding two thumbs down to that. Poetry? Really? Not Physics? Not Biology? Poetry? And as far as meditation, thats just what other people call praying. Now Ms. Hecht if sitting around real quietly, with your legs crossed uncomfortably and silently begging the universe to reveal itself to you works, well thats awesome (fire up the incense),  I’m sure that approach might attract some, but I’ll stick with that accumulative knowledge method of searching for the truth. Science. While I do respect you and of course accept that you are an atheist, but there is no old boy underground that is conspiring against you, rather your approach is a smidgen illogical. However your book seems interesting and very well written, I will be purchasing it, fellow atheist.

P.S   “why science spends so much of its resources on longevity of human life?”  People who make this type statement completely baffle me!!!! Its like they hate themselves or something. I mean I guess we could all just read poetry and meditate and wait for death to take us to nowhere.

Posted on Dec 02, 2008 at 8:03am by thomasbean Comment #1

P.S   “why science spends so much of its resources on longevity of human life?”  People who make this type statement completely baffle me!!!! Its like they hate themselves or something.

Hello thomasbean.  Welcome to the forums.  I can understand your being baffled.  To understand it, it helps to think of desire for more and hatred of something as the same end of a scale rather than opposites. They’re both passions.  One can be “not dissatisfied” with a lifespan without hating life.  You might equate it to battling one’s own greedy impulses.  It’s not a strategy with wide appeal but perhaps you can find some appreciation for it in others.

PC

Posted on Dec 02, 2008 at 11:26am by the PC apeman Comment #2

I really enjoyed DJ’s latest interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht.

It is odd to see her attacked above for daring to apply a spirit of skepticism to science. While I don’t share her respect for psychoanalysis, I really resonated with what she said about the “new atheists.” Oddly enough, while her book Doubt, encouraged me to embrace my own identity as an atheist, the radical atheists have motivated me to change my Facebook profile from “Atheist” back to “Buddhist agnostic!”

Ginger Campbell, MD
<a >Brain Science Podcast</a>

Posted on Dec 02, 2008 at 12:50pm by docartemis Comment #3

Come on now I said her ideas were just a smidgen illogical, thats hardly an attack. All I was saying is that its the poetry,meditation as well as her reverence for psychoanalysis that have excluded her from that category(New Atheism), not a gender bias. And I certainly don’t mind being skeptical of science. You are supposed to be skeptical with science. Isn’t that the scientific way.

Posted on Dec 02, 2008 at 1:29pm by thomasbean Comment #4

Come on now I said her ideas were just a smidgen illogical, thats hardly an attack. All I was saying is that its the poetry,meditation as well as her reverence for psychoanalysis that have excluded her from that category(New Atheism), not a gender bias. And I certainly don’t mind being skeptical of science. You are supposed to be skeptical with science. Isn’t that the scientific way.

Don’t be coy. Your entire post was an ad hominem attack, and you know it. Regardless of what one thinks of her ideas (and I personally
found them to be scattered, poorly-organized, and a bit too “fluffy-bunny” at times for my tastes), engage with her ideas and prove that
they’re “a smidgen illogical,” don’t throw out a series of bald assertions wrapped in those oh-so-adorable post-modern “air quotes.”

Posted on Dec 02, 2008 at 2:11pm by steveg144 Comment #5

.

Posted on Dec 02, 2008 at 2:32pm by Luke Vogel Comment #6

Doubt: A History

I thought this was one of the better interviews and it makes the book pretty interesting—maybe a companion to Hitchens Portable Atheist.  Kudos to D.J. for bringing up the “why isn’t J.M.H. considered one of the new atheists”.

I was a little concerned that she was blurring the definition of “truth”; a post-modern definition that if you think something is true, it’s true for you, perhaps overstates her point.  One might say that there are truths in poetry but ... I don’t know… 

I will definitely get the book. Thanks again.

Here is a NY TImes article on Doubt and also the Susan Jacoby book D.J. mentions.

[ Religion: The Clash of Orthodoxies NY Times 12/5/2004]

Posted on Dec 02, 2008 at 7:19pm by Jackson Comment #7

Typo —it’s pointofinquiry dot org not point of inquiry comma org. —will edit this to a real   comment after I listen….

:lol: you mean the Administrators AREN’T perfect! :-P
I’ll have to listen to it too….!

Posted on Dec 02, 2008 at 10:00pm by asanta Comment #8

Typo —it’s pointofinquiry dot org not point of inquiry comma org. —will edit this to a real   comment after I listen….

:lol: you mean the Administrators AREN’T perfect! :-P
I’ll have to listen to it too….!

I’m glad they are human…

It’s a good interview…I edited post above….

Posted on Dec 03, 2008 at 3:48pm by Jackson Comment #9

Yeah, I also find some of what she says maddening. The route to truth is through poetry, psychoanalysis and meditation? Huh? What could she possibly mean by that? One might as well have said that the route to truth was through hopping on one foot.

She loves science but compares much of contemporary science to phrenology? Freudian psychoanalysis is about as close as contemporary science comes to phrenology ... well, at least insofar as one would be willing to call psychoanalysis scientific ...

Very fuzzy stuff, as steveg was saying.

I will say that I agree with her about Ecclesiastes; and certainly most of the interview was interesting and on point.

Posted on Dec 04, 2008 at 8:19am by dougsmith Comment #10

I’ve found her claims about psychoanalysis, meditation and poetry weird, to say the least. Moreover, while I was listening those parts I was thinking “is it enough of posmodernist in POI yet?, who is next? Derrida? (well, Derrida should have to be interview using a ouija, but I guess it won’t be a problem for posmodernist), Irigaray?”

Other thing I’ve found weird was her claim that asking gender question about physics could bring some importants points, so the gender question on physics should not be banned. Said this way I have to agree, but noone had come with a meaningfull gender question on physics. The trouble is not with gender question, the trouble is with meaningless questions.

Posted on Dec 05, 2008 at 7:36am by Barto Comment #11

I found Hecht’s skepticism of science to be refreshing and the overall interview to be excellent.
I just have one fundamental problem, and that is that I feel that Hecht does not offer an solid explanation of why “Poetry etc. etc.” is better for reaching truth.

I accept science has been flawed in the past and continues to be flawed; however, we can test and discover its flawed nature.

Poetry and other avenues of “truth” are not nearly as testable.  It becomes easy to say, that poetry is better at truth finding when the very premise is untestable.

Posted on Dec 05, 2008 at 9:27am by C. Painter Comment #12

I’ve mixed feelings about this. I’m uncomfortable about blurring the lines between science and pseudo-science. I trivially agree that what we have discovered today may invariably be replaced with something new in the future but I think it will be science that will do it. This turning to art and poetry for truth is a little too fuzzy for my liking. Art is more likely to be a way of conveying our genetic tendencies or perhaps a way of communicating via lateral rather than direct means but I don’t see it intrinsically as a search for truth. Art may be deeply human, it may have even been the impetus for Philosophy, literature and science but it is hardly a search for truth.

It is somewhat important to be humble about just how much we don’t know. Even that some of our firmest beliefs may turn out to be something else but I still think science is the best way at it. It has a handle on the world that art and poetry never has. This handle is of course the important part, with art we cannot know that we are wrong, with science we can.

Perhaps the issue is tools. When trying to convey information, inspire or discover tendencies of the human mind. Art can be a powerful tool. But you can’t interrogate the universe with it, it has no handle on reality other than the handle the author already has through other means.

Still good interview, doubt is important as long as we can be functional about it and don’t lapse into solipsism or something. Might see if I can hunt down her book.

Thor’Ungal

Posted on Dec 05, 2008 at 10:17am by Thor'Ungal Comment #13

Hecht posts a weekly blog on the Best American Poetry site.  She talks about the interview and this discussion there.

http://thebestamericanpoetry.typepad.com/the_best_american_poetry/the_lion_and_the_honeycomb/

cheers,
jm

Posted on Dec 05, 2008 at 2:32pm by junkmotel Comment #14

I may buy the book, but I’d doubt it.

Doug I also found it ironic for her to cite phrenology (old school nonsense) as doubter-fuel and in nearly the same breath psychoanalysis (other old school nonsense) to show us the way.  In the (rhetorical or literal) book on psycho-medical jackassery phrenology and psychoanalysis should be in the same chapter next to skinnerian boxes and hydraulic models of psyche. Poetry is a fine means of expression of truths but a means to it? That just seems mad.

Re: meditation
This is neither here nor there. Though religions have made brazen attempts to steal it (like say concepts of marriage, sex, and morality) meditation has nothing whatsoever to do with it, certainly it is not synonymous with prayer as one poster suggested. I’ve meditated at times I needed the relaxation on a higher order of magnitude. I’ve no regard, exposure or interest in any form of religious meditation nor have I ever read or investigated any form it whatsoever.. I merely did what came naturally with no pretension to “high” meaning whether religious or psychological.

Re: The New Atheists
Number one.. who cares. Does a grouping label make my book or ideas better or worse? Number two, the exclusive arbiter of who is or is not a “new atheist” seems to be how said whos book is marketed.

re: doubt of science
Why is this being called daring or refreshing (as has been done in this thread)? First, doubt of science conclusions is clearly a critical part of the scientific machine itself. Many if not most studies done are meant to test the conclusions of others. Every new idea puts other ideas into the trash. This is day to day life in science- pick up a journal and read. Further, we’ve also had decades of anti-science po-mo writers, philosophers, scientists, movies, etc.., and more recently a lot of antidotal books telling us the new atheists or just plain atheism is too arrogant, too hard, or too self-righteous. Refreshing? I’m a bit sick on the glut of it actually. Here’s my .02$ for the next thousand science guys writing a book telling me how to read the other books: don’t. If Hitchens’ vitriol is overreaching I’m actually capable as a reader of realizing it. Shocking, I know.
Maybe you should write a book telling us why we should not be reading it. That’d be pushing the doubt envelope.

Posted on Dec 06, 2008 at 6:08am by sate Comment #15

Hecht posts a weekly blog on the Best American Poetry site.  She talks about the interview and this discussion there.

http://thebestamericanpoetry.typepad.com/the_best_american_poetry/the_lion_and_the_honeycomb/

cheers,
jm

http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/doubt/kristasjournal.shtml
This is another 53 minute interview of Jennifer Michael Hecht for the PBS Speaking of Faith series— Krista Tippett also has some comments.

also interview for Skeptic magazine…
[ Interview in July 5 2005   edition of Skepticality for Skeptic Magazine] 

Posted on Dec 06, 2008 at 6:36am by Jackson Comment #16

For the record, I dont think she was talking about phrenology (that was D.J.‘s mistake) but about the one-time “scientific” practice of craniometry.  I loved this interview. One of our favorites.

Posted on Dec 07, 2008 at 4:13pm by Thomas Donnelly Comment #17

I didn’t understand what she was saying, and she said at one point she couldn’t explain herself (sounds like postmodernism). Not the greatest of interviews, if you can’t communicate your ideas an interview isn’t really necessary. I didn’t hear a critique of science, all I heard was something along the lines of “scientists shouldn’t be so certain”, and “scientists were wrong in the 19th century”, not formed into a coherent argument against science. It doesn’t help the promotion of doubt to advocate psychoanalysis that is not evidence-based, thus must be doubted by any one calling themselves a skeptic i.e. doubter.

Posted on Dec 21, 2008 at 6:15pm by Aj Comment #18

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Hecht talks about the relationship of her book Doubt: A History to the books of the New Atheists…

I purchased a copy of Doubt, and recommend it.  This book complements the Portable Atheist by Hitchins and provides a readable history, reasonably thorough summary, and a context for the readings in Hitchins’ book.  Together Doubt (548 pages) and the Portable Atheist (499pages) will keep you busy with browsing for some time.

I was wondering if Doubt was available on Audible.com but couldn’t find it

Jackson

Posted on Dec 21, 2008 at 7:20pm by Jackson Comment #19

Allow me to share my thoughts on this whole thing.

1.) Skepticism of Science- If she was saying that we should be aware that specific scientific claims could turn out not to be true down the road, and we should see our knowledge as in some sense limited, I have no problem with that. I don’t claim that that was what she was driving at, but that’s what it sounded like to me.

2.) Poetry, Psychoanalysis, etc.- Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be that poetry, and the arts generally, are life-enriching. As for psychoanalysis, I wish DJ would have asked her if she meant psychoanalysis in the strict Freudian sense, or psychological explanation generally. If she was referring to the latter, then I don’t see any problem.

Posted on Dec 23, 2008 at 6:44pm by Lucretius Comment #20

I didn’t get the psychoanalysis part myself, exactly.  But, meditation is not praying.  It is a natural process and involves no belief system.  All three items of analysis, meditation and poetry seem to fit into part of what Paul Kurtz encourages with living life to the fullest.  Knowing oneself and expressing it in art are good ways to do it.

I would not put her in the category of the evangelical atheists however.

Posted on Dec 25, 2008 at 10:07am by redundant Comment #21

Allow me to share my thoughts on this whole thing.

1.) Skepticism of Science- If she was saying that we should be aware that specific scientific claims could turn out not to be true down the road, and we should see our knowledge as in some sense limited, I have no problem with that. I don’t claim that that was what she was driving at, but that’s what it sounded like to me.

2.) Poetry, Psychoanalysis, etc.- Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be that poetry, and the arts generally, are life-enriching. As for psychoanalysis, I wish DJ would have asked her if she meant psychoanalysis in the strict Freudian sense, or psychological explanation generally. If she was referring to the latter, then I don’t see any problem.

The book Doubt is more solid and factual than the impression one gets from the interview, because maybe Jennifer Michael Hecht has varied interests.
See the [  reviews at Amazon.com ]
As an example,

The Freethought Society and Humanist Association in Philadelphia co-sponsor a Secular Book Club, and Doubt: A History was the first book we discussed. Surprisingly, the moderator said the book wasn’t recommended to him, but rather, he found it by browsing in a book store. That’s a shame because this book is such a wonderful survey of religious doubt in the Western World, that also touches on some aspects of doubt in the Eastern World as they influenced and related to the West. ....

or

..I’ve been waiting for a guide like this for a long time. My religious friends have their bible; but this is mine. Mine. My source of wisdom from the ancients. My source of morality tales and life stories of my martyrs.

One point that did come up early in the interview (before digressing to poetry and skepticism about science) was that for hundreds of years people have outgrown religions, and yet blam! they get taken in again like Charlie Brown and Lucy.  We learn about the Greek myths. At one point people believed this stuff and unbelievers were ostracized - then the Greeks outgrew these religions. And yet the Romans picked these up and of course later took up Christianity.

Posted on Dec 27, 2008 at 9:06am by Jackson Comment #22

I think my discomfort with the “Poetry and Psychoanalysis and Art > Science” portion of this is assuaged when I think of a line from The Raiders of the Lost Ark:
Dr Jones “Archaeology is the search for FACTS. [writes word on chalkboard]. Not TRUTH. If you want truth, the philosophy department is down the hall.”

If you want Facts, then Science is the way. If you want Truth, then hey - whatever works for you, works for you.

Posted on Dec 27, 2008 at 9:40am by VeggieRonin Comment #23

This is really a brilliant woman!  Aside from my being so impressed with the way she expresses herself, she’s right on point regarding an individual’s impression of what might constitute “truth” within that individual’s life.  I also like her point on how the various religions have changed what they believe (or should believe) over time.  If the institutions can’t settle, how can a follower?

While I don’t know if psychoanalysis is even a healthy thing to devote much time to, I do see where expression in the form of poetry can manage to capture the essesence of a mind’s current state of flux.  This has value even if the author is the sole person to ever reflect upon it.

Having had my own life experiences to weigh in, I can’t agree with some of her own conclusions being presented, however, the book nevertheless goes to the top of my “things to read” list.  Thanks once again CFI.

Posted on Jan 25, 2009 at 4:50pm by gray1 Comment #24

One point that did come up early in the interview (before digressing to poetry and skepticism about science) was that for hundreds of years people have outgrown religions, and yet blam! they get taken in again like Charlie Brown and Lucy.

That is a wonderful and perfectly apt analogy! Surely one of the defining characteristics of humanity is our drive to make stories - explanatory narratives about life.  And if a story is comforting enough (Heaven is around the corner) and becomes a sufficiently widely shared meme (major religions), we humans - the vast majority of us, anyway - will fall for some, possibly updated, version of it over and over and over, even when stepping back even briefly to examine it’s veracity would illuminate its fundamental falsehood.

Of course, those of us who have developed appropriate doubt / knowledge about deities and religions respectively are certainly an increment ahead in that area of life. And that same life skill and knowledge provides valuable insurance against being duped in other areas.

Nevertheless, speaking only for myself, I know I’ve been Charlie running to “make the kick” for the umpteenth time in other areas of my life.  Charlie WANTS very much to believe that Lucy will allow him to make his kick rather than to make a fool of himself again.  And I’d guess this particular scenario is so iconic because there is some Charlie Brown - an urge to surrender to wishful thinking when we should know better -  in most or all of us.
Understanding that helps me, at least, to have more compassion for my fellows and family who are in the thrall of supernatural silliness.

Posted on Jan 26, 2009 at 7:24am by Trail Rider Comment #25

Faith cannot exist without doubt while even that which seems certain may nevertheless be suspect.

Faith can have at least three paths; 

1. to stand one’s ground regardless as it apparently crumbles around you,
2. to evolve one’s discernment through troublesome doubt, ever seeking to link a changing horizon to the anchor of such faith. 
3. to abandon one’s faith and replace the resulting void with “something”.

Linking can be fun!

Posted on Jan 27, 2009 at 5:32pm by gray1 Comment #26

If you are interested in hearing Hecht clarify some of the ideas she talked about in this interview, I hope you will check out Episode 27 of Books and Ideas. It is a follow-up interview with Ms. Hecht.

http://docartemis.com/blog/2009/03/27/podcast27-hecht

I don’t always agree with everything she says, but I think the she makes points that are worth thinking about.

Posted on Apr 07, 2009 at 11:33am by docartemis Comment #27

If you are interested in hearing Hecht clarify some of the ideas she talked about in this interview, I hope you will check out Episode 27 of Books and Ideas. It is a follow-up interview with Ms. Hecht.

http://docartemis.com/blog/2009/03/27/podcast27-hecht

I don’t always agree with everything she says, but I think the she makes points that are worth thinking about.

I’m having trouble with this particular link.
I don’t have difficulty with the previous one for episode 26
http://docartemis.com/blog/2009/02/27/bookspodcast-26/
Can you check if there is a typo?

I purchased the book Doubt and really found it interesting and complementary to other books.
It is still fascinating to me that the ancient Greeks DID believe what we consider myths.

Jackson

Posted on Apr 11, 2009 at 12:22pm by Jackson Comment #28

If you are interested in hearing Hecht clarify some of the ideas she talked about in this interview, I hope you will check out Episode 27 of Books and Ideas. It is a follow-up interview with Ms. Hecht.

http://docartemis.com/blog/2009/03/27/podcast27-hecht

I don’t always agree with everything she says, but I think the she makes points that are worth thinking about.

I’m having trouble with this particular link.
I don’t have difficulty with the previous one for episode 26
http://docartemis.com/blog/2009/02/27/bookspodcast-26/
Can you check if there is a typo?

I purchased the book Doubt and really found it interesting and complementary to other books.
It is still fascinating to me that the ancient Greeks DID believe what we consider myths.

Jackson

I was able to download the *.mp3 from iTunes.
There is a typo in the link Ginger Campbell contributed (and also in a number of places on her website)
it should read
http://docartemis.com/blog/2009/03/28/podcast27-hecht/
(that is /03/28/,  not /03/27/ which goes to HTTP404)
http://thesongoftheday.com/index.cgi?_d=040607

I found this ‘interview’ fascinating. Both Ginger Campbell and Jennifer Michael Hecht are extremely articulate.

Posted on Apr 21, 2009 at 7:19pm by Jackson Comment #29

If you are interested in hearing Hecht clarify some of the ideas she talked about in this interview, I hope you will check out Episode 27 of Books and Ideas. It is a follow-up interview with Ms. Hecht.

http://docartemis.com/blog/2009/03/27/podcast27-hecht

I don’t always agree with everything she says, but I think the she makes points that are worth thinking about.

She again vaguely attacked science with references to 19th century pseudoscience and now how science is reported in the media. It’s as if she doesn’t have any experience or knowledge of the scientific method, the philosophy of science, and the history of actual science. She mentions “science changes all the time” but doesn’t at all talk about evidence, studies, or clinical trials so she could be talking about opinions, hypotheses, and journalists. It’s as if she doesn’t understand the cumulative way of gaining knowledge through evidence and falsification, the strength of evidence matters, reproduction matters, and methology matters. It’s a disgrace to attack science in this way, generally attacking all science and scientists, without making one specific statement against any scientist or study. It’s quite clear that this is to leave room to pick and choose what scientific conclusions to accept and which do dismiss out of hand. I knew this stunk of postmodernism, she refers to her love of Foucault, they’re just as bad as the creationists in their attacks of science, and use very similar arguments and logic.

Posted on May 18, 2009 at 2:21pm by Aj Comment #30

Jennifer Hecht is a very refreshing voice and I feel is saying things that are urgently needed in a world that has become very compartmentalised. We must remember that all our categories of human knowledge and experience are ultimately artificial. If we attack the kinds of things that Hecht is saying because we only seem able to understand the world from a particular viewpoint this serves to pretty much prove what she is saying, we are too narrow in our understanding, humankind has always been thus and quite likely will continue to be so.
The voices that stretch the everyday, the accepted, the ordinary are valuable. If we don’t understand poetry or meditation then we should find out about them, not dismiss them. It is worth it, once the experience of completeness or total ‘rightness’  (truth perhaps! ) has been discovered it becomes clear what it means. Most visionaries in any field have had an ability to be open enough to not dismiss but to investigate. This is what I think of as true science.
Of course this approach could be read as a pretext to get involved in just about any strange or bizarre activity just to see if it is any good but I think poetry, as with most of the art categories are established worldwide as deeply significant human activities and meditation ( there are probably hundreds of types) is an ancient and modern way to see the truth of being human. My experience of it has been as a way of methodically being able to look at what is actually happening as opposed to just hazarding guesses and blagging a way through life.
The power of doubt is brilliant, the power of skepticism is brilliant, they must be used to investigate, they are what we are blessed with as humans. To me the opposite of enquiry is knowing the answer before we’ve looked. Jennifer Hecht attempts to uncover one of our (humans) great difficulties, indeed failings   i.e ‘jumping to conclusions’.
Graham Jones

Posted on Jan 12, 2010 at 12:50pm by graham jones Comment #31

Normally I am not really into listening to these kids of podcasts or reading these kinds of philosophy mind games books - but i decided to go ahead because I have enjoyed contributing to this forum so much over the last month or so and wanted to opine on an area I usually avoid. So I downloaded and listened to this interview with Hecht and the impressions that came over me were the following:

We are, it seems to me, in the age where we have a huge increase in people who have huge amounts to say, but who say very little. It seems to me that Hecht is in this category. Of course I should admit that I have never read one of her books, and am very unlikely to, as you will guess after you read this commentary. So it is ‘possible’ that she has something deep and meaningful to say that I am completely missing.
It also seems to me after listening to this interview that this is a very confused lady.  A confused lady who, at her core, does not understand Science or the Principles of Science or the place Science should occupy or play in our lives one little bit. She is a lady who is searching, through her writings, for some meaning in her life as opposed to someone who is delivering some meaning through her writings.

Some of the things she said I found puzzling and some quite bizarre.

She seems quite peeved that she has not been included in the ‘new atheists’ group, which is an odd thing to say. As if there was a Club to which she had been refused entry. Of course she then labels this group as a ‘gendered’ group, which is the standard dismissive comment by women who feel undervalued these days.
She describes the new atheists as polemic and angry. This strikes me as a bit huffy. How can anyone stand up and argue against religion in a public way without being polemic ?  I would like to know ! This criticism is lame and lazy in my view.
She criticises ‘new atheists’ because they still go to church for funerals and weddings etc. which she claims is hypocritical. She thinks that True atheists should not go to such events and should invent their own cultural traditions.  I find this a bizarre grounds for criticism. Is she saying that a person who is an atheist cannot live among theists in their community and family .. and cannot go to their mother’s funeral ? She claims it is “lying” to do so.  This is utter drivel by any other name.

Then she meanders around referring to great past ‘believers’ who actually were atheists, but better kinds of atheists than the ‘new atheists’, presumably because they kept their mouths shut about it. She claims her book is evangelical but the contents are not evangelical ... huh ?
She is convinced that as we live our lives and experience and explore the world our senses were not actually designed to gather truthful feedback about the world ... Science is not cumulative, except begrudgingly some parts of Physics ... she seems to believe that the ‘truth’ of science that we have today is only transitory and the ‘truth’ that science will hold as ‘true’ in a hundred years will be completely different - therefore truth is a transitory and ephemeral thing ... (huh ?) ...

She feels Truth can only be found through Art and Poetry and Meditation and ... psychoanalysis (?)  Not knowing is a joyful state and being a believer is a good state of mind. “I doubt therefore I believe”.

As I said at the start. I find this lady a very confused one. She is all over the place in every single element of her interview (I cannot dismiss her book without reading it) and I find it unfortunate that this is the level of the bar nowadays for having books published and hyped.

Posted on Jan 12, 2010 at 2:51pm by scepticeye Comment #32

Following up the comments from Skepticeye who contributed yesterday I feel he brings out an important crux of the discussion around Hecht’s work when he states ’ ...at her core,(she) does not understand Science or the Principles of Science or the place Science should occupy or play in our lives…’
This is the question, isn’t it?.  May I ask him, if he would be kind enough to explain what this means.
Or anyone else who has an idea,  thank you
Graham Jones

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 10:50am by graham jones Comment #33

It is self explanatory. If you have any specific problems with it please explain.

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:01pm by scepticeye Comment #34

DOUBT’s been impressive, the first two chapters that I’ve read, anyway. I’ve skimmed the rest and plan to finish it thoroughly this month. It is less dismissive of religious belief and behavior than Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris.  I’ll have to listen to the interview to hear how she compares herself to the more moderate Dennett, at least, if she believes she belongs in the New Atheists camp.

Hecht speaks much more casually than she writes. And since DOUBT doesn’t mention poetry, therapy, or meditation except in the context of the events and movements it discusses, I can probably continue to appreciate her work without being distracted by her apparently less analytical views. Just as I can enjoy Christopher Hitchens’ and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s criticisms of Islam in general while discounting their embrace of right-wing xenophobia as a solution to the problems of Islam.

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 1:29pm by josh_karpf Comment #35

Yes I think what I’m trying to get at is that there is a debate if not a controversy around ‘what is Science’ as there is around for instance ‘what is Art’. Ultimately I suppose it revolves around questions of objectivity and subjectivity and where the two may or may not cross over. For instance there is endless disagreement in research and scientific experiment about the meanings and uses of results. This on one hand is of course very healthy as it is what moves things along, on the other hand it points to the possibility of being wrong at any time.
It is a legitimate question to ask ‘what is Science?’ and ‘what part does it play in our live’ but I suppose if the question means nothing then it falls on stoney ground. I admit it is definitely moving into the territory of philosophy and beyond.
I’ll have a think about how self evident it is!!!
Cheers   Graham Jones

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 1:43pm by graham jones Comment #36

Following up the comments from Skepticeye who contributed yesterday I feel he brings out an important crux of the discussion around Hecht’s work when he states ’ ...at her core,(she) does not understand Science or the Principles of Science or the place Science should occupy or play in our lives…’
This is the question, isn’t it?.  May I ask him, if he would be kind enough to explain what this means.
Or anyone else who has an idea,  thank you
Graham Jones

This is a really good book and it has a lot of factual material in it about the history of atheism. 
I think the problem with Skepticeye’s generalization is that it is an opinion without an examples or facts.
Saying someone doesn’t understand Science is so sweeping a generalization that one has to read it as hyperbole rather than an actual statement.

Does he mean she dodesn’t understand anything about Science—unlikely! Does he mean she doesn’t understand everything about Science—perhaps that includes us all.

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 4:30pm by Jackson Comment #37

This is a really good book and it has a lot of factual material in it about the history of atheism. 
I think the problem with Skepticeye’s generalization is that it is an opinion without an examples or facts.
Saying someone doesn’t understand Science is so sweeping a generalization that one has to read it as hyperbole rather than an actual statement.

Does he mean she dodesn’t understand anything about Science—unlikely! Does he mean she doesn’t understand everything about Science—perhaps that includes us all.

First of all I was commenting on an interview. The interview was the subject of the OP, not a book. I made no comment about the book. My comments were general but also included quotes or parsings. The podcast is the example and the facts.  If you listen to it you will have the reference to which I was referring. I think my comments were very specific and factual. If you disagree then please come back with comments as specific as mine and explain what you think of her interview. I am interested in reading what you or anyone else thinks.

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 4:49pm by scepticeye Comment #38

Yes I think what I’m trying to get at is that there is a debate if not a controversy around ‘what is Science’ as there is around for instance ‘what is Art’.

Well to start with Graham I don’t accept that there is any such debate. Science is specific and defined. There is no debate about what it means. Art is a completely different animal altogether. What I deem to be Art may be your trash and vice versa. There is no definition of Art. There is no defining element of Art. Art is Art and is whatever people seem to think it is. (Don’t get me started on modern art !! ...)

Ultimately I suppose it revolves around questions of objectivity and subjectivity and where the two may or may not cross over. For instance there is endless disagreement in research and scientific experiment about the meanings and uses of results. This on one hand is of course very healthy as it is what moves things along, on the other hand it points to the possibility of being wrong at any time.

There is always a discussion about the specific results of specific experiments or studies where the data arising from those studies or experiments are vague enough to require interpretation. However this is a completely different issue from that of ‘What is Science?’.

It is a legitimate question to ask ‘what is Science?’ and ‘what part does it play in our live’ but I suppose if the question means nothing then it falls on stoney ground. I admit it is definitely moving into the territory of philosophy and beyond.

It is a valid question and one worth asking by someone who doesn’t know it. However it is not difficult to find simple definitions of what Science is all over the Internet. It is not a difficult to define thing.

My way of defining/explaining what Science is is as follow, though it is not meant to be comprehensive or strict:
Science is the application of the human mind to the world around us where we investigate processes and phenomena by following a set of principles that, when applied strictly and correctly lead us to establish verifiable facts about these processes and phenomena and the world. Those principles being:
Observation: Observing a phenomena or behaviour or happening.
Measuring/Describing: The measurement of as many characteristics of the process/phenomena and description of same
Collation:  The Collation of all of the data and observations.
Theorising: Postulating a range of possible Theories of the causes and mechanisms of the process/phenomena and choosing the ones that seem to fit the observations and data best.
Testing: Carrying out experiments on the process/phenomena or observing it repeatedly and testing if the results of the experiments together with the observation of the process/phenomena match the Theory.
Repetition: Repeating the above Principles until a Theory is established that fits the observations and data 100%.

This Science is a deterministic, defined and refined process and when we listen to the interview with this lady, the way she talks about Science and the way she finds fault with it and refers to it as non cumulative makes absolutely no sense. This is what leads me to believe, on the basis of her interview, that she does indeed have no real understanding of the meaning of Science or the role of Science in life. Science is not a religion or a way of life. Science is not a dogma or a philosophy or a culture. Science is simply a tool, a process. The truth to be learned through Science is a truth of facts and figures and measurements and processes. It is not a truth of happiness or sadness or success or tragedy or any of those things that this lady appears to be seeking.

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 5:12pm by scepticeye Comment #39

Scepticeye-

We are, it seems to me, in the age where we have a huge increase in people who have huge amounts to say, but who say very little. It seems to me that Hecht is in this category. Of course I should admit that I have never read one of her books, and am very unlikely to, as you will guess after you read this commentary. So it is ‘possible’ that she has something deep and meaningful to say that I am completely missing.

I doubt the amount of what people feel the need to say has changed at all in recordable history at least. What has increased is the ability for more people to hear what one person has to say-through technology. And these persons don’t have to have anywhere near the amount of fame, or notoriety that people once needed to be heard.
So the same Motherhen washerwoman; who 200 years ago, ironing clothes and yapping on about her personal woes still exists-except now she is on You-tube. Or has a blog, or is being polled, or is on one of the 5000 TV or radio news channels etc etc…
People have always had huge amounts to say.

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 5:28pm by VYAZMA Comment #40

.....If you listen to it you will have the reference to which I was referring. ....

I listened to it months ago—I also bought the book.

Sorry. I’m bailing out of this non-discussion.

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 5:29pm by Jackson Comment #41

.....If you listen to it you will have the reference to which I was referring. ....

I listened to it months ago—I also bought the book.

...me too, I like both.

Sorry. I’m bailing out of this non-discussion.

I’m following you out the door!!

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 6:22pm by asanta Comment #42

Scepticeye-

We are, it seems to me, in the age where we have a huge increase in people who have huge amounts to say, but who say very little. It seems to me that Hecht is in this category. Of course I should admit that I have never read one of her books, and am very unlikely to, as you will guess after you read this commentary. So it is ‘possible’ that she has something deep and meaningful to say that I am completely missing.

I doubt the amount of what people feel the need to say has changed at all in recordable history at least. What has increased is the ability for more people to hear what one person has to say-through technology. And these persons don’t have to have anywhere near the amount of fame, or notoriety that people once needed to be heard.
So the same Motherhen washerwoman; who 200 years ago, ironing clothes and yapping on about her personal woes still exists-except now she is on You-tube. Or has a blog, or is being polled, or is on one of the 5000 TV or radio news channels etc etc…
People have always had huge amounts to say.

Perhaps but I wonder if there was ever a time when so many of them got a chance to be published and inflict this kind of nonsense on us ;)

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 6:57pm by scepticeye Comment #43

People have always had huge amounts to say.

Perhaps but I wonder if there was ever a time when so many of them got a chance to be published and inflict this kind of nonsense on us ;)

....much fewer than the number who are able to inflict their nonsense on forum boards, I’m sure….due to the lower skill level involved.

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 at 9:06pm by asanta Comment #44

Scepticeye-

We are, it seems to me, in the age where we have a huge increase in people who have huge amounts to say, but who say very little. It seems to me that Hecht is in this category. Of course I should admit that I have never read one of her books, and am very unlikely to, as you will guess after you read this commentary. So it is ‘possible’ that she has something deep and meaningful to say that I am completely missing.

I doubt the amount of what people feel the need to say has changed at all in recordable history at least. What has increased is the ability for more people to hear what one person has to say-through technology. And these persons don’t have to have anywhere near the amount of fame, or notoriety that people once needed to be heard.
So the same Motherhen washerwoman; who 200 years ago, ironing clothes and yapping on about her personal woes still exists-except now she is on You-tube. Or has a blog, or is being polled, or is on one of the 5000 TV or radio news channels etc etc…
People have always had huge amounts to say.

Perhaps but I wonder if there was ever a time when so many of them got a chance to be published and inflict this kind of nonsense on us ;)

Getting published is far more easier too. I’m trying to sort out similar issues in the Freedom of Speech dept. When is too much-too much? When is too much opinion, or just plain too much falsehoods or propaganda too much?
On the issue of these type books above: I don’t read any of these kinds of books either. Seeing as how this book is not being purported to be journalism, or news, or factual reporting-I see no problem with it. Half of the “infliction of nonsense” occurs if you read the book. Think of these books as articles, or magazines in book form. Maybe 5-20 pages worth of thoughts stretched out into a book of 300 pages, or 197 pages etc… They aren’t making any impact. It’s like a Readers Digest piece.

Posted on Jan 14, 2010 at 5:39am by VYAZMA Comment #45

....much fewer than the number who are able to inflict their nonsense on forum boards, I’m sure….due to the lower skill level involved.

You are SO right !

Posted on Jan 14, 2010 at 7:06am by scepticeye Comment #46

Think of these books as articles, or magazines in book form. Maybe 5-20 pages worth of thoughts stretched out into a book of 300 pages, or 197 pages etc…

Thats is a very good observation of how they are.

Posted on Jan 14, 2010 at 7:07am by scepticeye Comment #47

Thank you Skepticeye.  Well I did ask didn’t I. I appreciate your time.
Yes it’s a great thing, Scientific Method.  It is an orthodoxy which obviously works but also does not work. In the way you describe it, it stands as a model of the world and more poignantly it is a model (reflection even) of a part of human behaviour, ( that part which collates and rationalises and also that part which wants definitive answers and to feel secure)  From evidence of looking at the world, people and myself I don’t see it as a complete or totally accurate model.  The rest of our understanding, behaviour and consequently the rest of our brain is left out. It works for some things in the world.  The world itself doesn’t work like this even if we think it does. ’ It could be argued that Scientific Method itself has shown up that Scientific Method is inadequate as it stands when we look at the quantum world and ask ‘what actually is matter?’ There is something else at play, not God or other superstitions, we’ve done all that, maybe literally the unknown, an unknown, a permanent unknown . We are not good at not knowing, Science won’t like it and people won’t like it.
It does tend to stop some of the verbiage though,( it starts a whole new lot, thinking you know what the unknown is!!) which brings up the other issue, why are people saying so much? The web is a great ‘democratiser’, no one is really more important than anyone else, to heavily criticize another person who has some ideas is just a way of trying to push them out of the picture, POWER.  C’est la vie.
We are all washerwomen now?  Only joking, don’t want to be washerwomanist.
Like the all important Priest who had spent a lifetime prostrating himself before God saying he was nothing in the eyes of the Lord. He saw a Novice doing the same thing and said ‘oh, look who’s trying to be nothing now!’
Also questions remain, why are we here, who are we, what is the universe, what is consciousness?  Stemming from these is, for instance ‘how do we live and how do we stop killing each other? Seriously, this is why it is important to question everything because we haven’t solved it yet.

Posted on Jan 15, 2010 at 6:18am by graham jones Comment #48

Graham-

We are all washerwomen now?  Only joking, don’t want to be washerwomanist.

Yes, I took a small literary liberty here. I wanted to paint a Monty Python type picture of the old hag, toiling away and decrying the injustices of life. Painting the picture that says-“Yes, lots of people have always had lots to say.

Posted on Jan 15, 2010 at 6:25am by VYAZMA Comment #49

Thank you Skepticeye.  Well I did ask didn’t I. I appreciate your time.
Yes it’s a great thing, Scientific Method.  It is an orthodoxy which obviously works but also does not work. In the way you describe it, it stands as a model of the world and more poignantly it is a model (reflection even) of a part of human behaviour, ( that part which collates and rationalises and also that part which wants definitive answers and to feel secure)  From evidence of looking at the world, people and myself I don’t see it as a complete or totally accurate model. 

Because Science is not a model, it is a method. Anyone who suggests otherwise is bent on disappointment.

The rest of our understanding, behaviour and consequently the rest of our brain is left out. It works for some things in the world.  The world itself doesn’t work like this even if we think it does. ’ It could be argued that Scientific Method itself has shown up that Scientific Method is inadequate as it stands when we look at the quantum world and ask ‘what actually is matter?’ There is something else at play, not God or other superstitions, we’ve done all that, maybe literally the unknown, an unknown, a permanent unknown . We are not good at not knowing, Science won’t like it and people won’t like it.

I don’t understand what you are getting at here. It sounds confused…

It does tend to stop some of the verbiage though,( it starts a whole new lot, thinking you know what the unknown is!!) which brings up the other issue, why are people saying so much? The web is a great ‘democratiser’, no one is really more important than anyone else, to heavily criticize another person who has some ideas is just a way of trying to push them out of the picture, POWER.  C’est la vie.
We are all washerwomen now?  Only joking, don’t want to be washerwomanist.
Like the all important Priest who had spent a lifetime prostrating himself before God saying he was nothing in the eyes of the Lord. He saw a Novice doing the same thing and said ‘oh, look who’s trying to be nothing now!’

Touche ;)

Also questions remain, why are we here, who are we, what is the universe, what is consciousness?  Stemming from these is, for instance ‘how do we live and how do we stop killing each other? Seriously, this is why it is important to question everything because we haven’t solved it yet.

demonstrating yet again that Science is not everything. It was never claimed to be.

Posted on Jan 15, 2010 at 4:03pm by scepticeye Comment #50

There is a new interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht on the podcast connected to http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/ , with Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galef.

The “teaser” for the episode is
http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/07/podcast-teaser-jennifer-michael-hecht.html
This is a full webpage introducing the speaker & books and inviting questions—I like the layout.

The interview itself is at
http://www.rationallyspeakingpodcast.org/show/rs14-jennifer-michael-hecht-on-science-religion-happiness-an.html

The interview questions refer to D.J.‘s interview on POI.
Hecht makes the point that some famous folks we think of as theists (i.e. St. Augustine) were largely anti-superstition, and there are various quotes that if religion is contradicted by science then religion needs to change.

Hecht is working on a book on suicide and that part of the interview is also interesting—she makes a quasi-emotional, quasi-philosophical argument against suicide because of the importance of community.


Finally
  the 15th episode (8/15/2010) is also really good. I like the still of having two compatible hosts.

Posted on Aug 20, 2010 at 5:12pm by Jackson Comment #51