Feeling≠being

Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham and President of Humanists UK, has been Twitter-arguing with people who found the Natural History Museum’s tweets about queer giraffes and non-binary gorillas absurd.

This one is particularly interesting to me:

It’s her reply that interests me, but I’ll just note about the quoted passage from her book…I wonder if she would write that now. I wonder if now she would stop, and think, and frown, and then censor herself. I wonder if she would stop to think about it and then decide that it would be “transphobic” to allow that sentence to appear.

That’s a hypothetical though. Her actual reply today says “If someone who looks like a man and has XY chromosomes tells me he feels female – I cannot tell her she is ‘wrong’. Would you?” That’s what interests me.

Of course, first of all, it depends what she means. (I asked her but don’t know if she’ll reply.) Maybe she just means it’s not comfortable or polite and usually probably not even ethical to tell strangers they’re wrong about what they “feel” about themselves. But if she means it more generally and abstractly, that we can never think people are wrong about what they “feel” about themselves – that’s nonsense, and it’s antithetical to a scientific outlook. Why? Because people can be wrong about themselves, even if it’s an inner feeling, even if they feel the inner feeling strongly. Treating self-feelings as absolutely true and immune to rebuttal is sheer dogmatism.

That is, naturally, all the more germane when people are making factual claims that contradict what shows on the surface. Trump “feels” he is a stable genius, but there is much external evidence that points to a different conclusion.

Roberts’s hypothetical someone who looks like a man and has XY chromosomes may not be wrong about what he feels, but he’s probably wrong that what he feels=what he is. What we “feel” we are doesn’t necessarily determine what we actually are. It’s not that easy.

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