Alex Taskiris shares what he's learned through his 200-plus interviews with some of the world’s leading consciousness researchers and thinkers. In doing so, he reveals what the best research is saying about 'big picture' science questions and the limits of science in general.
Science-as-we-know-it is an emperor-with-no-clothes-on. It mesmerizes us with flashy trinkets, while failing at its core mission of leading us toward self-discovery. Science is wrong because it assumes that consciousness is an illusion—and the evidence suggests it’s not!
“Alex Tsakiris has articulated in this feisty work what many of us in the academy have felt but have not quite had the courage to say. Alex writes as our conscience here, as he calls us all to balk against the silly and self-contradictory script that is reductive materialism. Such a balking, Alex reminds us, does not make us creationists or anti-science, as the skeptics would have us believe. It makes us conscious beings who refuse this bizarre pact of unconsciousness, meaninglessness, and depression.” — Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion, Rice University and author of Authors of the Impossible
"In the best of American traditions, Tsakiris is a plain-talking Everyman who speaks truth to power. Only, in this case, power is a scientific paradigm that has Ivy League academics and New York media intellectuals completely in its thrall. Are materialists right? Not if you follow the data. Tsakiris brings some giants to their knees, here, simply by asking smart, tough questions that no one has thought to ask. Fascinating stuff." — Patricia Pearson, author of Opening Heaven's Door
“In his bawdy, baddass style, Skeptiko pioneer Alex Tsakiris hunts down the world's leading consciousness researchers to challenge and skewer outdated modes of scientific thinking. Along the way, he doesn't merely show us what's wrong with science, but what's right about all of us.” — Jonathan Talat Phillips, Professional Psychonaut and author of The Electric Jesus
"There's nothing wrong with science itself. But there's a great deal wrong with how some scientists stubbornly perpetuate myths known to be wrong. Tsakiris learned this by interviewing scientists on both sides of controversial topics and seeing first hand how self-proclaimed "skeptics" often wildly distort and denigrate discoveries just because they challenge prevailing theories." — Dean Radin, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and author of Supernormal
“What do we really know about consciousness? This is one of humankind’s most important and debated questions. Why Science is Wrong… About Almost Everything brings a fresh and exciting perspective to this ancient question. Alex Tsakiris presents an impressive compilation of his discussions with some of the world’s leading scholars on the issue of consciousness and science. Alex masterfully demonstrates that consciousness cannot be fully explained by known physical brain function. Multiple interviews confirm that what many leading materialist scientists accept as factual is indeed wrong. This book is well written and enthusiastically recommended.” — Jeffrey Long, MD, author of Evidence of the Afterlife
"With heart, candidness and humanity, Alex yanks from the realm of academic abstraction the most important questions of our times: What is science-as-you-know-it telling us about what we are and what reality is? Do its answers stand to reason and empirical fact? In making his surprising—sometimes even alarming—case that they don't, Alex shows that all is not as it seems. His argument is imbued with such urgency, relevance and aliveness that anyone who senses the magnitude of the mystery we live in should read this book immediately." — Bernardo Kastrup, Ph.D., author of Why Materialism Is Baloney
“Tsakiris has distilled the essence of his podcast Skeptiko into a book as direct as his show—and equally necessary. If you want evidence that consciousness is not an illusion, that we are more than biological robots, this book is a great place to start.” — Steve Volk, writer-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine and author of Fringe-ology
Neither science nor rationality are universal measures of excellence…Science is neither a single tradition, nor the best tradition there is, except for people who have become accustomed to its presence, its advantages, and disadvantages. In a democracy it should be separated from the state just as churches are now separated from the state — Philosopher Paul Feyerabend
The pause is brief, only a second or so, but I’m panicking. I’m sitting in the patio next to my kitchen—a wonderfully calming space I’ve converted into a studio for the science-themed podcast I’m recording. But I’m not calm right now. I’ve asked my question and my mind is racing as I wait for an answer. This could get ugly.
Dr. Dean Radin is on the other end of the recorded Skype call. He’s one of the world’s leading parapsychology researchers, and rather than offer up polite banter about his bestselling books, I’ve pressed him with a tough question about his competence as a researcher. I’m not a professional scientist. I have no training as a broadcaster. And to be honest, I haven’t gotten all the way through Radin’s book, Entangled Minds. But none of that matters now. I’ve asked Radin to respond to some specific claims by one of his harshest critics. I have to see where this goes. Radin begins in a soft-spoken, measured tone: “It’s interesting; he claims I do a lot of studies and don’t repeat them, and the very next thing he says is that I repeated the presentiment experiment a number of times.”
Radin is responding to claims made by University of Oregon psychologist Dr. Ray Hyman, a respected scientist with a stellar academic background and long list of peer-reviewed publications. Hyman attacked Radin during an interview with Yale neurologist and self-proclaimed “skeptic” Dr. Steven Novella. They were discussing Radin’s peer-reviewed research into the nature of time and consciousness. Radin’s research posed a fundamental question: When do we know what we know? What Radin suspected, and what the data ended up revealing, is we sometimes know things are going to happen before they occur.
Radin discovered this by asking test subjects to stare at a blank screen and wait for an image to be displayed. During the waiting period time he measured their physiological response to the image. Sometimes he measured galvanic skin response, other times he measured pupil dilation or brain activity. But the goal was always to see if there was a detectable physiological reaction before the image appeared. Surprisingly, he did find such a reaction, particularly when troubling or extremely stimulating images were displayed.[iii]
Radin had published his results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. He had also replicated his work by repeating the experiment a number of times to make sure his results were consistent. He even collaborated with other independent researchers in labs throughout the world who were interested in replicating his results (as of this writing Radin’s presentiment experiments have been successfully replicated over 25 times in 7 different laboratories). But during his interview with fellow skeptic Steve Novella, Hyman seemed unwilling to even consider such research. And, he saved his sharpest punches for Radin himself. Hyman snickered at Radin’s competence and charged Radin with making basic mistakes in collecting and interpreting his data. He even went so far as to say that Radin was “changing his corrections” in order to “get what [he] wanted from the data.”
Before I explain to you exactly how this story ends (see Appendix A… spoiler alert – Hyman is shamefully wrong, and Radin’s research remains unchallenged), let me back up and explain why a non-scientist, entrepreneur such as myself was using an internet radio-show to jump into such an obscure parapsychology debate.
If physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world. There must be a very different way in which things as they are make sense, and that includes the physical world, since the problem cannot be quarantined in the mind.[i] — Philosopher Thomas Nagel
Thank goodness for public access television. PBS Cincinnati gave me my first lesson in consciousness. I was just out of college and enjoying a day off from work when I tuned into a strange show called Lilias Yoga. At the end of the program, Lilias led me and the rest of her viewers through a guided meditation: “Breathe softly and quiet that voice inside your head,” Lilias instructed. Until that moment, I never realized there was a “little voice inside my head.” I had never really thought about my consciousness in that way. As it turns out, questions about “the little voice inside our head” are not only central to yoga classes, but also to science.
What is consciousness? Let’s simplify. Here’s an exercise to try. Don’t worry, it’s an easy one. Take a deep breath and quiet your mind a bit. Now say, “Hello.” I know it seems a little strange, but use that voice inside your head to say “Hello” to yourself.
Did you hear it? Did you hear YOU say “hello” to YOU? Of course you did. The YOU that heard “hello” is the essence of consciousness.
According to our present, science-as-we-know-it worldview, there is only one acceptable explanation for the origins of this consciousness. Science insists your consciousness is solely and completely a product of your brain. To allow for anything outside your physical brain to be involved in human consciousness would fundamentally alter science. So, before I show you how time and again we have encountered solid evidence suggesting consciousness is something more than just the electrochemical firing of your brain, let me show you why science-as-we-know-it desperately needs this not to be so.
Here’s a simple science question: what is the boiling point of water? Short answer: 212° F, or 100°C. But wait, it’s not quite that simple. As you probably know, the boiling point of water depends on atmospheric pressure, which changes according to elevation. Water boils at 212° F at sea level, but it boils at a lower temperature in the mountains. The boiling point also depends on the purity of the water. Salty water boils at a higher temperature than pure water. Unless we account for these factors we can’t properly answer our science question. In other words, unless we know all the variables involved, we can’t measure the result.
With that in mind, let’s return to the question of consciousness. If my consciousness is solely a product of my brain, I don’t have anything to worry about in regards to my water boiling experiment. The world I’m trying to measure is out there, and I’m in here. Everything is neatly organized within this framework. But if my consciousness extends beyond my physical brain, then I have to ask whether my consciousness (i.e. that little voice inside my head) has influenced this world I’m trying to measure. For example, if I concentrate/meditate/pray really hard, can I make this water boil at a lower temperature?
Okay, forget about the boiling water experiment for a minute. Can I use my consciousness to make a plant grow faster?[ii] Can I use prayer (i.e. directed consciousness) to make a hospital patient heal sooner?[iii]Can I silently extend my consciousness to another person and give them the answer to a question they’re seeking? There is no end to these kinds of questions, but I’ll add one more. If the voice inside my head can be shown to do any of this, can a scientist ever be sure about what s/he is measuring? The answer is no.
[i] Nagel, Thomas. (2012) Mind & Cosmos. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [ii] Dr. Marilyn Schlitz appeared on Skeptiko episode No. 4 and her article “Distant Intentionality and Healing: Assessing the Evidence” can be retrieved from http://media.noetic.org/uploads/files/DistantIntentionality.pdf [iii] Dosey, Larry. (1999) Reinventing Medicine. New York, NY: Harper Collins
Naturally, you might wonder how this overwhelming consensus among respected researchers has impacted mainstream science. I mean, science is driven by evidence, right? Publish a hundred unchallenged peer-reviewed papers and opinions change, right? Nope.
In fact, while I was interviewing some of the top NDE researchers, I was also talking with some of the most well-known, and most vocal, NDE critics, including neurologists Dr. Kevin Nelson (Skeptiko #93) and Dr. Steven Novella (Skeptiko #16, #44, & #105) philosopher Dr. Massimo Pigliucci (Skeptiko #107), science writer Dr. Michael Shermer (Skeptiko # 3), anesthesiologist Dr. Gerald M. Woerlee (Skeptiko # 98), and parapsychologists Dr. Caroline Watt (Skeptiko #165) and Dr. Susan Blackmore (Skeptiko # 5 & #114).[ii]
What I discovered from the NDE critics surprised me. First, most have never actually researched near-death experiences. This is true of Novella, Shermer, and Pigliucci. The sum total of their scholarly publications in this field is zero.
Second, even those who have published on the subject, like Dr. Caroline Watt, Dr. Susan Blackmore, and G. M. Woerlee, haven’t actually worked with near-death experiencers. Although these “experts” are frequently cited by the mainstream science media, their “research” consists of little more than academic-sounding book reports.
When you push this point, NDE critics will usually admit their lack of depth in the field, but most are never asked. When I interviewed Dr. Watt from the University of Edinburgh about her often-cited, strongly assertive paper explaining away NDE science, she admitted:
Dr. Caroline Watt:…this is actually not my area of specialty. It’s probably my one foray into near-death experiences, and I probably won’t be publishing on it again.
Similarly, despite her ongoing status as an authority on NDE research, Dr. Susan Blackmore admitted to me in 2010 (Skeptiko #210) that she wasn’t an expert and hadn’t remained current in the field for the last 20 years:
Dr. Susan Blackmore: It’s absolutely true. I haven’t written about this subject for a long time, and I haven’t kept up with all the literature, either.
When pressed further about some of the negative comments she had made about the work of NDE researcher Dr. Jeffrey Long, Blackmore admitted:
Dr. Blackmore: I gave up all of this stuff so many years ago. If you are a researcher in the field, it behooves you to read as much as you can of the best work, because otherwise you can’t be a researcher in the field. I’m not a researcher in the field. I have not been for a long time.
Soon after my interview with her in 2010, Dr. Blackmore gave a public presentation on her pessimistic view of NDE research. I wonder if she mentioned her lack of expertise to her audience.
[i] Van Flandern, Tom (1994). Dark Matter, Missing Planets, and New Comets. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books [ii] Past interviews with the aforementioned experts can all be found at www.Skeptiko.com.