The Tao of lawn-mowing

Another way to be silly.

[S]ome credible scientists contribute (knowingly or not) to fuelling irrational, mystical tendencies in public life. The fact this is so often done in the name of making science attractive to non-scientists only makes the damage harder to repair…The genre originated with the publication in 1975 of Fritjof Capra’s book, The Tao of Physics, which suggested that the equations of quantum-field theory were somehow related to ancient, mystical Indian texts. This book struck me then (and still does) as a monumental joke…What these books do is try to wrap modern scientific discoveries in an illusory shroud that insinuates a link between cutting-edge science and solutions to the mysteries of life, the origins of the universe and spirituality. They depend on cultivating ambiguity and a sense of the exotic, flirtatiously oscillating between science and the paranormal. This is X-Files science – and The X-Files is science-fiction.

It’s all wrapping and shroud and insinuation, ambiguity and exoticicism and the paranormal – aimed at people who get little thrills of significance from ambiguous paranormal exoticism wrapped in illusory insinuating shrouds. There are a lot of people like that.

[T]he idea of an association between science and mysticism is now promoted by respected scientists rather than by journalists or charlatans – guaranteeing it more credibility than these earlier authors ever had…[F]or a well-known physicist to use science to feed the popular hunger for re-enchantment is – without doubting the sincerity of his beliefs or his project – to lend credibility to irrationalism…Scientists should challenge the indulgence of mysticism in their own backyards. For example, the journal Science devotes one-and-a-half pages to a review of The Physics of Immortality which offers no critical perspective on its fundamental thesis, and neglects to point out that its dozens of pages of equations (incomprehensible for most readers) are mere “fluff” that have nothing to do with the soul’s immortality; they serve only an attempt to “blind the reader with science”. It seems to me that scientists involved in popularisation have an obligation to present science as the naturalistic enterprise it is, instead of attempting (cynically or naively) to stimulate interest in science by associating it with vague spiritual or religious notions…The essence of science is a naturalist vision of the world that makes it understandable without any appeal to transcendental intelligence, be it Zeus, Poseidon or any other God.

Not even Karl Rove.

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