Drew's Reviews > Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self

Absence of Mind by Marilynne Robinson
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's review
Jan 23, 2011

did not like it
Read in December, 2010

Disclaimer up front: I did not finish this book. I know many folks in the 'true believer' camp presume to review scientific-based books or those critical of woo without having bothered to read them.

We on the skeptical side have truth on our side and with truth comes the integrity to be open and honest. I didn't read the whole book because it presents a pattern started with the dust jacket and carries on through as far as I could stomach.

That pattern is this- Robinson seems to try to win over her audience by deploying ten-dollar-words in place of a compelling argument. She also resents the scientific community for failing to allow for her wishful thinking that there is a non-observable, mystical realm that influences us. This is positioned as "arrogance".

She starts as early as the dust jacket by distorting the scientific method and its proponents by putting into their mouths the belief that science itself has some sort of "logical infallibility".

Those of us who subscribe to the methods that brought us germ theory, understanding of genetics, and the helio-centric model of the solar system understand that sometimes science gets it wrong (far from infallible), but that it is mostly self-correcting and moves forward toward ever-increasing fidelity to the reality of the universe.

If we want to talk "arrogance", let's look at religion's offerings to the world: blood sacrifice, original sin, divine right of kings and suicide bombers, to name but a few.

Marilynne, you can keep your religion and your ideas that human consciousness is somehow divine. Maybe it is. However, I am confident (maybe a bit arrogant) that science will one day explain the non-mystical nature of human consciousness. Perhaps this will happen in our lifetime. Perhaps not.

The one thing I am sure of is your arguments do nothing to convince me that religion has already sufficiently done so.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Justin Evans Yeah, I didn't like it either; but rest assured that she's very persistent in separating out the kind of science that saves lives from the kind of 'science' that makes insupportable generalizations on the basis of rats-in-mazes. Still, I wouldn't bother finishing the book.

message 2: by Dan (new)

Dan She's not criticizing science, she's criticizing parascience, a form of pseudoscience that science groupies tend to like. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with parascience, per se, it's just that it is nothing more than unprovable generalizations and speculation with some support from science. That's great, and it's usually called philosophy. But many parascientific practitioners give an impression that you're reading science, not speculation, to the extent that there is a whole metaphysic that has developed, usually called scientism. It's not terrible, there are lots of valid criticisms, many of which Robinson presents.

Believe in scientism, but don't think you have the advantages of science on your side.

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