Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.


Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.

Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Belief)

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Arthur Schopenhauer speaks on Obama, religion and writing

Famed pessimist who refused to marry holds forth

The secret of good writing

Interesting interview ends with insult to the English

Arthur in a good frame of mind at the start of our interview, possibly recalling how delightful it was to be very rich and to see through the wiles of the mother of his child so that he was able to avoid the degrading effect of actual marriage to her, which he told her was only Nature's trickery and a way of ensuring that they would end up disliking each other Since, as constant readers of this obscure blog know, we have a hotline to heaven, we contacted the great philosopher and observer of human behavior Arthur Schopenhauer to ask him to make a few observations on the recent Presidential Election and his views on the Obama performance and potential to date, while we wait to see the outcome of health reform, and whether the entrenched profit interests which have ruined the performance and social justice of the nation’s medical system can stymie its repair once again.

Schopenhauer is one of our favorite philosophers because he generally ignored the accumulation of philosophical expertise from the past and thought for himself with a minimum of technical jargon. He was also someone who appreciated the worthlessness of any writer who wrote for gain, an extreme position we admit, but nonetheless still true if interpreted correctly.

Given his desire for fame was somewhat frustrated during his lifetime. we were glad to find the great man in a good mood now that posterity has recognized his genius, or rather, now that he is even further beyond worldly concerns than he was when alive.

He patiently answered our inquiries without once complaining that the answer was obvious. All quotes are verbatim from Schopenhauer’s writings except for linking phrases.

Science Guardian: So can we find out what you felt about the Obama candidacy and victory in seeking the moral and political leadership of the world?

Arthur Schopenhauer: A great departure from the norm. Because the great majority of men are in the highest degree egoistic, inconsiderate, deceitful, sometimes even malicious, and equipped moreover with very mediocre intelligence, there exists the need for a completely unaccountable power, concentrated in one man and standing above even justice and the law, before which everything bows and is regarded as a being of a higher order, a sovereign by the grace of God. Only thus can mankind in the long run be curbed and ruled.

Science Guardian: Good Heavens! So you believe along with us in the semi-celestial stature of our new political Savior, whose arrival seemed to us to be more than the result of mere vote counting, but in some way a development that sprang from the hands of the Gods? There was a need for someone who could transcend his age and act for the good of all and our descendants.

You asked for change but won't let me do itArthur Schopenhauer: If you want to earn the gratitude of your own age you must keep in step with it. But if you do you will produce nothing great. If you have something great in view you must address yourself to posterity: and then, to be sure, you will probably remain unknown to your contemporaries; you will be like a man compelled to spend his life on a desert island and there toiling to erect a memorial so that future seafarers shall know he once existed.

Science Guardian: That’s certainly comforting to many crackpots and eccentric geniuses, though it doesn’t tell them which is which. So you must be predicting failure for Obama, since he has become a world celebrity in two short years? Yet also it seems that from your logic it follows that if he stops worrying about votes and takes a firm stand for great policy changes he will achieve something great and lasting.

Arthur Schopenhauer: If he is a true genius he will win through. Talent works for money and fame: the motive which moves genius nto productivity is, on the other hand, less easy to determine. It isn’t money, for genius seldom gets any. It isn’t fame: fame is too uncertain and, more closely considered, of too little worth. Nor is it strictly for its own pleasure, for the great exercise involved almost outweighs the pleasure. It is rather an instinct of a unique sort by virtue of which the individual possessed of genius is impelled to express what he has seen and felt in enduring works without being conscious of any further motivation. It takes place, by and large, with the same sort of necessity as a tree brings forth fruit, and demands no more of the world that a soil on which the individual can flourish.

Science Guardian: By those high standards surely then no politician can succeed both in winning office and achieving great things. Or are you simply saying that if Obama compromises to get his legislation through, then he is doomed to mediocrity?

But on the other we might take Obama’s great oratory as a sign that his heart is in the right place, and that it consists of ideas he genuinely believes in which he wants to bring into being?

Arthur Schopenhauer: He who writes carelessly makes first and foremost the confession that he himself does not place any great value on his thoughts. For the enthusiasm which inspires the unflagging endurance necessary for discovering the clearest, most forceful and most attractive form of expressing our thoughts is begotten only by the conviction of their weightiness and truth – -just as we employ silver or golden caskets only for sacred things or priceless works of art.

Science Guardian: Interesting. So the average US politician and his abominable prose is condemned out of his own mouth as not meaning what he or she says, or he or she would take more care with language… And Obama is the man to listen to, with his great eloquence, and the one who should do great things.

To be honest, we have not found reading up on every little move in politics in the US to be very fruitful, so we don’t pay too much attention to the verbiage emanating from politicians. But Obama has struck us as very often clarifying the issues in ways no one can and does, although we are not forgetting that some voices on the right set out to muddy the democratic waters on purpose.

Schopenhauer as a young manArthur Schopenhauer: The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public.

Science Guardian: But we still like reading books, which we find often contain the meat of the matter these days which is not to be found in newspapers or other media.

Arthur Schopenhauer: A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones, for life is short.

Schopenhauer on how to distinguish a good writer

Science Guardian: We always think that Norman Mailer made the key distinction, that there were writers who wrote to influence others by manipulation – for example, the hordes writing self-help books and romance novels – and the writers who write from inside themselves, expressing their own inner vision and putting it honestly in front of others to influence them only if they recognize the truth of it as well. He said the only ones which deserved the title writer were the latter.

Arthur Schopenhauer: I entirely agree with this Mailer, whoever he is. There are above all two kinds of writer: those who write for the sake of what they have to say and those who write for the sake of writing.

The former have had ideas of experience which seem to them worth communicating; the latter need money and that is why they write – for money. They think for the purpose of writing. You can recognise them by the fact that they spin out their ideas to the greatest possible extent, that their ideas are half true, obscure, forced and vacillating, and that they usually prefer the twilight so as to appear what they are not, which is why their writings lack definiteness and clarity. You can soon see that they are writing simply in order to cover paper: and as soon as you do see it you should throw the book down, for time is precious.

Money and writers

Science Guardian: But surely writers have to be paid, don’t they? Samuel Johnson, the English dictionary maker, once observed that no man but a blockhead wrote except for money.

Arthur Schopenhauer: I don’t agree with him. Payment and reserved copyright are at bottom the ruin of literature. Only he who writes entirely for the sake of what he has to say writes anything worth writing.

It is as if there were a curse on money: every writer writes badly as soon as he starts writing for gain. The greatest works of the greatest men all belong to a time when they had to write them for nothing or for very small payment: so that here too the Spanish proverb holds good: Honra y provencho no caben en un saco. Honor and money don’t belong in the same purse.

Even among the small number of writers who actually think seriously before they start writing, there are extremely few who think about the subject itself: the rest merely think about books, about what others have said about the subject. They require, that is to say, the close and powerful stimulation of ideas produced by other people in order to think at all. These ideas are then their immediate theme, so that they remain constantly under their influence and consequently never attain to true originality. The above mentioned minority, on the other hand, are stimulated to think about the subject itself, so that their thinking is directly immediately to this. Among them are to be discovered those writers who endure and become immortal. Only he who takes what he writes directly out of his own head is worth reading.

Science Guardian: You seem to be describing the majority of blogs in the first group. So the outlook for great writing on the Web and its blogs is not bright, but at least the authors won’t starve?

Arthur Schopenhauer: What is the Web? I have not heard of such a thing.

Science Guardian: We’ll send you a descriptive package and what we call a laptop to view it with, and hope that you have some way of connecting with the Internet up there. All will be explained if that works.

Schopenhauer takes a short walk when Mexican workers interrupt the SG interviewExcuse us for a moment, the renovators of the house next door are making a merciless racket since it is 8 am in the morning, and they want to ensure that we are woken up. We believe you objected to excessive noise when you lived in Frankfurt.

Arthur Schopenhauer: In that case it was whips. Nothing gives me so clear a grasp of the stupidity and thoughtlessness of mankind as the tolerance of the cracking of whips. This sudden, sharp crack which paralyses the brain, destroys all meditation, and murders thought, must cause pain to any one who has anything like an idea in his head… With all respect for the most holy doctrine of utility, I do not see why a fellow who is removing a load of sand or manure should obtain the privilege of killing in the bud the thoughts that are springing up in the heads of about ten thousand people successively.

Science Guardian: Believe me, there are many in New York City, where large trucks noisily collect the rubbish in the street every morning at ungodly hours like 7am, who would agree with you fervently.

Now that the Mexicans next door are sure we are wide awake, they have calmed down, so let’s proceed.

Schopenhauer’s tolerant view of religion

Can we change the topic for now and ask you about the current phenomenon where in science current ruling beliefs seem to be turning into religions, where if you question them you are sanctioned and excommunicated? Surely religion is by definition the enemy of independent minds, and thus the enemy of science? Not to mention that the ideas it enshrines in dogma are mostly absurd.

Arthur Schopenhauer: Well, hold on a moment, if you are referring to religion in general. You have got to take religion with a grain of salt. You’ve got to see that the needs of ordinary people have to be met in a way they can understand. Religion is the only means of introducing some notion of the high significance of life into the uncultivated heads of the masses, deep sunk as they are in mean pursuits and menial drudgery, and of making it palpable to them.

Man, taken by and large, has by nature no mind for anything but the satisfaction of his physical needs and desires, and when these are satisfied for a little entertainment and recreation. Philosophers and founders of religions come into the world to shake him out of his stupefaction and to point to the lofty meaning of existence: philosophers for the few, the emancipated, founders of religion for the many, for mankind as a whole.

Philosophy isn’t for everyone – as your friend Plato said and you shouldn’t forget. Religion is the metaphysics of the people, which they absolutely must be allowed to keep: and that means you have to show an outward respect for it, since to discredit it is to take it away from them.

Just as there is folk-poetry and, in the proverbs, folk-wisdom, so there has to be folk-metaphysics: for men have an absolute need for an interpretation of life, and it has to be one they are capable of understanding. That is why it is always clothed in allegory; and, as far as its practical effect as a guide to behavior and its effect on morale as a means of consolation and comfort in suffering and death are concerned, it does as much perhaps as truth itself would do if we possessed it.

Don’t worry yourself about the baroque and apparently paradoxical forms it assumes: for you, with your learning and culture, have no idea how tortuous and roundabout a route is required to take profound truths to the mass of the people, with their lack of them.

The people have no direct access to truth; the various religions are simply schemata by which they grasp it and picture it, but with which it is inseparably linked. Therefore, my dear chap, I hope you’ll forgive me for saying that to ridicule them is to be both narrow minded and unjust.

Science Guardian: Well, thank you for the compliment of saying we are above this nonsense ourselves. But isn’t the reaction of religion to heresy, involving stakes and fire and torture and banishment, the worst, most unreasonable and unscientific example for science to follow?

As you yourself once said, isn’t it “as narrow minded and unjust to demand that there should exist no other metaphysics except this one cut to the requirements of the people’s wants and capacities? that its teachings and doctrine should mark the limit of inquiry and be the guide and model for all thinking, so that the metaphysics of the few and emancipated, as you call them, must amount to nothing but a confirmation, fortification and illumination of your metaphysics of the people? that the highest powers of the human mind should thus lie unused and undeveloped, should indeed be nipped in the bud, in case their activities might happen to run counter to your folk-metaphysics? and do the pretensions of religion amount to anything less than this? Is it proper and becoming in that which is intolerance and pitilessness itself to preach tolerance and pity? ”

Sometimes people have to pay a dreadful price to maintain a different point of view on accepted notions, don’t they?

Arthur Schopenhauer: I call on heretic courts and inquisitions, religious wars and crusades, Socrates’ poison cup and 52 year old Giordano Bruno’s 1600 and 34 year old Lucillo Vanini’s 1619 blazing pyres to bear witness!

Even if that kind of thing doesn’t go on nowadays, what could stand more in the way of genuine philosophy, of honest inquiry after truth, which is the noblest calling of noblest men, than that conventional metaphysics to which the state has granted a monopoly, and whose propositions are hammered into everyone’s head in his childhood so earnestly and so deeply and firmly that, unless it is of a miraculous degree of elasticity, it retains their impress for ever, so that his or her capacity for thinking for himself and for making unprejudiced judgments – a capacity which is in any case far from strong – is once and for all paralyzed and ruined?

Science Guardian: That is what is dangerous about religion, surely. It tries to defeat independence of mind in childhood, which then may last for life.

Schopenhauer as a youthArthur Schopenhauer: Yes, indeed. It is common knowledge that religions don’t want conviction, on the basis of reasons, but faith, on the basis of revelation. And the capacity for faith is at its strongest in childhood: which is why religions apply themselves before all else to getting these tender years into their possession.

It is in this way, even more than by threats and stories of miracles, that the doctrines of faith strike roots: for if, in earliest childhood, a man has certain principles and doctrines repeatedly recited to him with abnormal solemnity and with an air of supreme earnestness such as he has never before beheld, and at the same time the possibility of doubt is never so much as touched on, or if it is only in order to describe it as the first step toward eternal perdition, then the impression produced will be so profound that in almost every case the man will be almost as incapable of doubting his doctrine as of doubting his own existence, so that hardly one in a thousand will then possess the firmness of mind seriously and honestly to ask himself: is this true?

Science Guardian: So you praise independence of mind from all this guff?

Arthur Schopenhauer: The expression esprits forts, strong minds, applied to those who do still possess it, is more fitting than those who use it know. But for the remainder, however, there is nothing so absurd or revolting that they will not firmly believe it once they have been inoculated with it in this fashion.

If, for example, the killing of a heretic or an unbeliever were declared to be an essential condition for salvation, then almost every one of them would make doing so one of the main objectives of his life and in death the memory of the deed would provide consolation and strength; as indeed, almost every Spaniard in fact used to consider an auto da fe a most pious and God pleasing act; to which we have a counterpart in India in the religious fellowship of the Thugs.

This the English suppressed while I was alive on Earth by numerous executions: its members gave proof of their religiousness and of their worship of their goddess Kali by treacherously murdering their friends and travelling companions whenever the occasion offered and making away with their possessions, under the firm illusion that they were doing something praiseworthy and promoting their eternal salvation. The power of religious dogmas imprinted in early years is such that they are capable of stifling conscience and finally all pity and humanity.

Science Guardian: Sounds as if you agree with John Adams that religion is a pernicious influence and that if it were removed from the Earth the world would be a happier place.

Arthur Schopenhauer: If you want to see with your own eyes and from close to what early inoculation with faith can do, look at the English, nature has favored them before all other nations and furnished them with more understanding, judgment and firmness of character than all the rest; yet they have been degraded lower than all the rest, indeed been rendered almost contemptible, by their stupid church superstition, which infiltrates all their capabilities like an idea fixe, a downright monomania. The only reason for this is that education is in the hands of the clergy, who take care so to imprint all the articles of faith in earliest youth that it produces a kind of partial paralysis of the brain, which then gives rise to that lifelong imbecile bigotry through which even people otherwise in the highest degree intelligent degrade themselves and make a quite misleading impression on the rest of the world.

Science Guardian:(nervously) Well, we are English or were before we moved to the US so we are not sure whether you are right in that. The English really do not often take religion very seriously at all now, and most of them don’t go to church any more.

But perhaps we have tired you out and we should resume this conversation at another time.

Thank you very much for your participation in what is surely a historic interchange between this world and the next.

Dr Love – Schopenhauer and Love (video by Alain de Botton)

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