Monday, September 04, 2006

More on 'Breaking the Spell'
Dennett has an interesting stylistic quirk in this book. He ends each chapter with a summary of the chapter and a preview of the next one. The summary and preview for each chapter are often quite different. The preview for Chapter 2, 'Some Questions About Science' reads as follows,
"There are obstacles confronting the scientific study of religion, and there are misgivings that need to be addressed. A preliminary exploration shows that it is both possible and advisable for us to turn our strongest exploratory lights on religion."
The first subchapter is entitled 'Can Science Study Religion?' . The author tries to answer various objections to this question such as the "non-overlapping magisteria" of Stephen Jay Gould that are true in their own restricted sense but still leave much about religion that is a matter of legitimate scientific study. The author makes a telling point is his sentences,
"One of the surprising discoveries of modern psychology is how easy it is to be ignorant of your own ignorance. You are normally unaware of your own blind spot, and people are typically amazed to discover that we don't see colours in our peripheral can prove (it) to yourself by wiggling coloured cards at the edge of your vision- you'll see motion just fine but not be able to identify the colour of the moving thing."
The author goes on to say how while there has been much study of religion in the past almost all of it has suffered from an overwhelming "observer bias" in that those who study the phenomenon are either overly sympathetic or overly critical. This means that we are still very much in ignorance of the scientific questions involved in religious belief. Worse, as he says,
"...people think they already know everything they need to know about religion, and this received wisdom is pretty bland, not provocative enough to inspire either refutation or extension."
Once more we are unaware of our blind spots.

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