Sarah Castle recently tweeted an New Scientist article by Deborah Mackenzie, Living in Denial, Why Sensible People Reject the Truth. This may have been a continuation of our exchange over my Stephen Hawkin inspired ET conquistador proposal, so I’ve been thinking about it, teasing out my ideas. It’s a sketch, perhaps once I am on the water I’ll elaborate on these themes.


There are many ways to ask a question. People test hypotheses, initiate conversations, open themselves to experience, devise tools for discovery, make myths, wonder without words and relax into knowing.

Science yields reliable predictions about the future. Compassion reveals the feelings of others. Mindfulness is an inquiry into the possibilities of the present. Living history is an exploration of the past from suppressed or forgotten perspectives, as demonstrated by Howard Zinn and John Hendrik Clarke.

Our experience of reality is determined by how we ask. We manipulate and fabricate reality with questions. ‘What do we want?’ can often be entangled with ‘What do we want to know?’ Know in the sense of both having pragmatic information and in the sense of wordless rapport, whether sexual, spiritual, aesthetic…

Science is one way of knowing. It’s emphasis on prediction has enabled our amazing technological civilization. We begin to realize though that the questions science poses cannot insure our survival or even guide us to joy.

Edward Bernays applied the theories of Sigmund Freud to develop the most destructive force yet unleashed against the earth – the consumer. Industrial productivity enabled by scientific inquiry has broken the climate. We literally cannot live with science alone. That’s Koyaanisquatsi – crazy life, life out of balance.

Science has rubbed out the authoritarian gods – and filled their shoes. Just one more rigid system that must not be transgressed, *cannot* be transgressed – it’s the law. The law of gravity, conservation of energy, etc. It’s impossible to step outside these laws… until our understanding shifts and we find those laws were just special cases, applicable only so long as x and y were true. Are we really so arrogant to think that our understanding is nearly complete?

Rather than demean or ignore other methods of inquiry, scientists should look for allies. Anyone who is intensely curious, anyone who is rigorous with inquiry – whatever the method –  is potentially an ally. Openness to the idea of questions could be the basis for unity. Questions should not be evaluated by whether they can fit the dominant mode of inquiry but whether they are interesting, useful and even fun.

Conspiracy theorists attempt to break free of the gravity well of conventional thinking. They express a pragmatic and savvy skepticism of authority. They are entertaining. Not all conspiracy theories are bosh either, conspiracies really happen.

If we accept that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 911 and that he didn’t have significant weapons of mass destruction, why did we go to war with Iraq? Was it just a big mistake or can we use the C word here? I remember a lot of misleading imagery and dysfunctional reportage in the media back then. I remember fabrications by authorities and leaders. Who’s ready to step up and name that animal?

We can’t survive if we limit inquiry or act only on the authority of experts. Rather than deny the irrational we ought to find out what it has to offer. If both the rational and non-rational are our allies, we won’t be at war with ourselves.



New Scientist is doing a whole series on Living in Denial. Three days ago Michael Fitzpatrick contributed with Questioning Science isn’t Blasphemy. Dr Fitzpatrick may not agree with what I’ve asserted here, but I appreciate his bringing some balance. I had read Why Sensible People Reject the Truth weeks ago and was inspired to try and contrast my position, to articulate what seemed important. I have to thank Deborah Mackenzie, her assertion that folks who don’t agree with orthodoxy are mentally ill, she really had me going. I hadn’t reread her article until tonight and whoa! The generalization that “all denialists see themselves as underdogs fighting a corrupt elite” could as easily be applied to activists and reformers.

Here’s a conspiracy theory for you –  There’s rumors that the Tea Party movement is corporate funded. If Ran Paul is the best those folks can muster, then maybe the whole point is to discredit dissident movements in general by equating them to the Tea Party.  You wanna take back your government? Aw, go join the Tea Party!

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