On Intellectual Honesty, Part 1

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Science

One of the great things about blogging is the encounter of new ideas and voices—new, at least, in the sense that they were new to me, and I might not have found them otherwise. Recently I’ve been listening to Sam Harris’s podcast Waking Up, and been very much enjoying it. I’ve listened to about eight episodes now, and have begun to hear recurring themes and arguments, so I think I’ve started to grasp where Sam is coming from. What I enjoy most about the show is the opportunity to listen to brilliant, articulate people—albeit from a limited range of focus at times—discuss interesting ideas. I’ve really, really enjoyed it.

A concept that comes up from time to time is intellectual honesty. It’s one with which I resonate, and which I believe is profoundly important, but it’s not one that I find is particularly well-applied in all of the arguments I’ve heard. I’m not certain the breaches I find are intentional or not, or that those to whom I’ve listened would even agree with me that they have omitted plausible positions from their conversations, but it seems to me that people of the cognitive caliber as appear on this show would be capable of discerning these additional plausible vantages and at least discussing them. It is thus remarkable to me that they do not. I am left to conclude that Sam and certain of his guests do not consider these positions at all relevant, and therefore there would be no intellectual dishonesty from their perspective: these positions are, in their minds, simply not worth discussing. But from my perspective that is not always so. And I think it matters, because it leaves potentially interesting opportunities for dialogue and frank discussion unexplored. So I want to think out loud about a few of these instances in a series of posts.

(I apologize in advance for the length of this first post, and will shorten them moving forward!)

The first example of intellectual dishonesty to which I’ll point is a simple one, and it is not taken from the podcast. I’m beginning with this merely to give an example of what I’m speaking about when I say intellectual dishonesty. There is a video Richard Dawkins made—and Richard was one of the guests on Sam’s podcast to whom I’ve enjoyed listening—that is available on YouTube in which he takes a run at homeopathy. This is only two minutes long, and admittedly stripped of its context, which was a two-part show Dawkins aired called Enemies of Reason. I watched a portion of the larger episode to see if I’d missed something that this shorter segment did not discuss, but didn’t find anything to sway my opinion. That said, I’m certainly open to feedback if I missed a mitigating segment somewhere.

The premise of the video is that a medicine cannot work if the active ingredient of the medicine is not chemically present in the dosing mechanism. He makes the rib-hurting argument that mathematically speaking, to “imbibe even one molecule of the active substance [of a homeopathic preparation], you’d need to imbibe all the atoms in the solar system…” Then he suggests that homeopaths have known all along their formulations are “just water” and goes on to suggest that if the notion water has any active information properties—e.g. “memory”, the posited mechanism of homeopathy—that would require that we concede we’re all drinking a homeopathic preparation of Oliver Cromwell’s urine when we enjoy a glass of water. It’s brilliant theater, of course, but I find it to be intellectually dishonest.

To begin with, I don’t believe proponents of homeopathy suggest it is a chemical medicine, like aspirin or Crestor, but rather one based on the premise that water can be a carrier of biologically active information. So the entire opening argument is based on a misrepresentation of homeopathy, which Dawkins knows. He starts there anyway, which is basically the rousing defeat of an argument the counter party hasn’t even made, then proceeds to suggest the notion that water could store or transmit information signals is obviously ludicrous, because if it were true we’d be drinking a medicinal preparation of the urine of everyone who has ever lived. This latter point is itself misleading on at least three counts, which I’ll attempt to describe. I’ll ignore the obvious fallacy, which is that if something can be rendered in profound hyperbole, it must be wrong.

First, homeopathy does actually have protocols for the preparation and storage of the medications, which differ from the conditions and energetic transformations water undergoes in the natural environment. So there could be a way in which the environment is not a homeopathic preparation of all that has ever been. To ignore this is to suggest that either there is no protocol to homeopathy whatsoever (which is obviously false), or to presume the protocols simply don’t matter. Assuming the latter, Dawkins thus begins with the unstated supposition that homeopathic preparations make zero difference to water as compared to its original state in the natural environment. This approach is intellectually dishonest because the starting premise—that the mechanism of homeopathy simply doesn’t work—is also his conclusion.

Second, I’m not expert in homeopathy but it requires no effort on my part to wonder if there might not be mechanisms of removing stored information from water and purifying it at that level (so that we’re not all drinking medicinal preparations of urine). Turns out there probably is, and that evaporation by sunlight—the key driver of the water cycle—works by literally overcoming the weak electromagnetic bonds between water molecules in the liquid state, thus destroying (in all likelihood) any stored energetic patterns within a volume of water. I don’t know what a homeopath would think of this–it’s just an example of one idea a person might consider–but obviously Dawkins doesn’t either.

And thirdly, while the science of water physics has advanced tremendously since the time Richard crafted this presentation, even at the time he gave it the scientific community had begun to explore the admittedly controversial idea that water might, in fact, be capable of storing and transmitting biologically active information. Dawkins’ video aired almost ten years after the work of Jacques Benveniste, which was published in Nature, in which Benveniste reported that white blood cells could be incited to produce an immune response when exposed to dilutions of antibodies so dilute they did not contain any of the antibodies themselves.

Benveniste’s work, the ensuing criticism, and his response to it, is uniquely interesting theater of its own–and it is worth noting that I believe the scientific community would have cited a replication failure of Benveniste’s work at the time Dawkins’ video was aired–but there are two issues at play here. One is the notion, which under girds Dawkins’ argument in the video, that phenomenal observations should not be scientifically reported without the supply of a theoretical explanation as to how they occurred. This was I believe a large argument against Benveniste’s work: the observation can’t be true because there’s no known mechanism for it to occur. This makes no sense to me as an argument, since new theories are often based on observations that cannot be explained, at least at face value, from known theories. This idea that nothing can be reported as observed without being explained at the same time is a ridiculous standard. How could science progress without admitting both novel predictions from new theories, and novel observations that require those theories?

But the even greater issue is that at the time of Dawkins’ video, Benveniste’s work was not the only purported incidence of new science or technology involving water memory effects. The Austrian naturalist Johann Grander received an award from the Russian Academy of Natural Science in 2001 for his work on this subject. Grander was not a scientist, and his proposed mechanisms do not use the vocabulary of science and thus were easily dismissed by those who wished to do so. But the Russian Academy of Natural Science gave its award only after conducting laboratory work. I know because I traveled to Austria, met with members of Grander’s family and organization, and was shown the results. (I was working at the time with their US-based representatives, interested to see if the technology could reduce the need for toxic chemistries in industrial cooling systems.) When I asked them why they were not published, the answer was that it was impossible to publish research on a commercial technology in a scientific journal when the operating principle of the technology was not well understood. This does actually make sense to me, because it is not just a novel observation in nature, but the observation of a device present in the laboratory at the time of the experiment whose influence on the experiment is claimed to be decisive to the outcome, but which is not understood by the scientists in the least. How could that fly? I wouldn’t attempt to publish that paper either. And since Grander felt protective of his intellectual property, the systems of science and commerce did not align to incent the best possible outcome.

Dawkins conceivably did not know about Grander’s work, or the award from the Russian academy, but I believe it is reasonable to assume that if you or I, as a scientist, were going to air a program to millions of people and make a few sweeping declarations on a subject, the onus would be on us to take stock of not only what is known in a field, but also to take stock of where it might be going. Which doors are appearing? Which are open and which are closed? Is it even a legitimate field of inquiry? Why or why not? There were, in fact, a fair amount of ideas percolating at the time.

Many years prior to the airing of Dawkins’ video, a paper was published by the Italian scientist Emilio del Guidice (in conjunction with other authors) in which water’s novel heat storage capability was explained using the properties of quantum coherence, which are derived from the application of quantum physics to solid state systems. Basically, the value for the specific heat of water (the scientific term for the quantity of energy a substance can store per unit of mass) as well as a prediction of how that value changed with water’s temperature, was derived in this paper from the mathematical theories of quantum physics. The purported reason water stores more energy per unit mass than it otherwise ought to—being made of relatively light gases, hydrogen and oxygen—is that it spontaneously forms resonant volumes involving many molecules at once. If water was a chest of drawers, these vibrational modes essentially represent drawers you could use for storage that other liquids generally do not possess. It turns out that water, compared to other materials, has a lot more drawers you can hide energy inside.

Related, at least in hindsight, the German physicist Herbert Frohlich had also made some ground in the several decades preceding Dawkins’ video in which he posited that part of what makes living systems possible, and unique, are long-range electromagnetic interactions, or coherence, and the associated energy storages such coherence enables within the organism. Meaning what? Meaning that in living organisms, which are predominately water, considerable energy is stored in non-thermal mechanisms which are highly ordered, and insulated from degradation. We’re not just thermal baths in other words, but liquid crystals. These ideas have led today to really interesting breakthroughs in our understanding of the role of water in the organism, and also to our understanding of water in general. And in hindsight it is not too difficult to see how del Giudice’s work and Frohlich’s work relate. I only know because they were both referenced in other books I’ve read on the subject, and I looked them up. Dawkins’ argument hinges, in part, on the notion that medicine can only be chemical in nature, not electronic (or information-based), yet evidence of the importance of electronic states to the viability of living tissue was already gaining considerable traction. At the time the video aired, important relationships between biology and quantum physics had already become increasingly mainstream, and water was related to much of this research.

Could Dawkins’ have been ignorant to all of this? Perhaps. But he knew enough to know that the proposed mechanism for homeopathy was information storage within water systems. He certainly knew about Benveniste’s work. And he easily could have known about the other work I’ve mentioned as well. I did, after all, and my time for pursuing such diversions was quite limited. I had a full-time job (my work with the Grander organization was a sideline) and was simply an interested person exploring the world via dial-up internet.

So Richard Dawkins needn’t like these ideas, or admit them into the canon of his personal philosophy. But I do think the video is a straightforward example of intellectual dishonesty because it makes fallacious arguments, and because it takes advantage of the ignorance of the audience for which it was intended. But it is certainly great fodder for the home team.

(To Be Continued…)

22 Comments

  1. Hello my friend! What a happy surprise to see you in my inbox, Michael! Now, I won’t profess to have knowledge about much of what you have written above, but I completely understand where you are coming from in your passionate displeasure of the DIShonesty, or shall we say, lack of full disclosure by said Mr. Dawkins. I learned a long time ago that there is a fine line between a lie, and a lie of omission. Agreed, there are times when it can be appropriate, but not in the above situation when a scientist does not provide a full picture and therefore misleads many who are not privy to the full information. I also hate to think that this practice happens more than we might realize.

    I hope you are well… I am certain you are busy. I am in the weeds in so many areas of life, so I apologize for not staying connected…but know I think of you from time to time and it always brings a smile to my face. I can’t imagine how hectic life has been for you and also impacted by the crazy weather!!

    Many sweet blessings to you, Michael. I know you are continuing to create, and I hope that you and your family are well!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lorrie!

      I’m well, thank you. Hope you are, too! I should say as an addendum to this post that I’m convinced Dawkins acted upon what he felt was correct in his own mind. I’ll never believe that patronizing people is a mature or effective way of making a point, so that alone sets off alarm bells for me. But when I apply the term intellectual dishonesty I’m simply implying the readiness to endorse conclusions without a truly open-minded willingness to consider all possible information and perspectives. To take this out of the realm of a seeming character attack, which is not my intent, I think perhaps “intellectual unwillingness” is a more appropriate way to frame the issue. When intellectual unwillingness presents itself as science it undermines the very objectives for which science has positioned itself to explore. It is intellectually dishonest in the sense that it fails to admit of evidence outside of a particular personally-chosen band, and that fails to conform, in my opinion, to the established conventions of the art.

      And I do think this happens often enough to be an issue of real concern. On another podcast I’ve been enjoying recently, “Brain Science”, one of the scientists brought on the show to discuss his work researching neurons gave advice to students to tackle the areas they are passionate about, even if they may not be obviously good for a career. He went on to say that in his experience scientists can be pretty reluctant to embrace new findings (I’m paraphrasing, and not meaning to state that all scientists are of a particular ilk), or to tackle areas truly unexplored, because it is safer from a career perspective to refine the ideas already in motion. What this does of course, is limit the pace of genuine discovery. Science as an institution is as shackled by human misgivings as is any other large institution, I think it is fair to say.

      Thanks as always for reading, and for your note!
      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

      • I understand where you are coming from, Michael. I think I like your rephrase “intellectual unwillingness,” as it implies knowledge of what they are doing. I won’t say that there is ill will in their unwillingness, but rather a huge desire to have events seen the way they WANT them to be seen. (I use “they” as anyone practicing this unwillingness.)
        Perhaps I’m completely off track as there are numerous instances of maleficence…but I don’t think that is what you are talking about…and it is clearly a GIANT topic for a different discussion. 😉
        Have a super week! ❤

        Liked by 4 people

  2. When my youngest sister was 7, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Conventional medicine could offer her nothing except hot wax and other antiquated treatments. They told her she would be crippled for the rest of her life. Within months she could barely walk. She had 2 treatments with a homeopathic doctor and her RA went into remission. She’s 37 years old and it is still in remission. We just went for a 4-mile walk the other day. 🙂

    Dawkins has always rubbed me the wrong way. Academia is so often, in my opinion, not only intellectually dishonest, but also intellectually constipated. Scientists are the very people who should be open-minded to new theories, but instead they ridicule and ostracize those who seek new possibilities way outside the box. Look how many in the past were even persecuted and imprisoned for their work: Galileo, for example. Is homeopathy really so threatening to the establishment? What’s the big deal if people want to explore other options, as long as they don’t force it on others? Quackery eventually reveals itself, anyway.

    Very thought-provoking, Michael. Thank you.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you for sharing that, Julie. I really appreciate it, and I think there are probably many stories like that which could be told.

      I agree 100% with your question What’s the big deal if people want to explore other options, as long as they don’t force it on others? I think the answer is that one thing leads to another, and if there is validity to homeopathy then we must grapple with a slippery slope of issues that would potentially require significant revisions to our perspectives on nature–what it is and how it works. While science is today providing some very interesting insights into how water enables the dance we call life, it could be that Dawkins feared giving credence to homeopathy would trigger a cascade of related issues that make him uncomfortable. I don’t know. But I could relate to that feeling of the ground sliding beneath one’s feet. In the end, discomfort with an idea doesn’t justify an attempt to censor it.

      I do think many scientists are open-minded, and the ones I mentioned may have traded on opportunities for greater career advancement to pursue the ideas they did. Who can say? I was lucky to hear del Guidice speak at a conference on water once, a year or so before he died, and he was really an interesting person, passionate about his work. I’ve read several of his papers and really enjoyed them.

      Glad your sister is doing well!
      Michael

      Liked by 4 people

      • You’re very welcome. It’s something my whole family is grateful for to this day. We tell the story and don’t care if we’re mocked. We have never been, so far. The results speak for themselves.

        Your essay about water was fascinating. I totally get the concept, and I can see why it scares people like Dawkins. It is out of his control.

        When I mentioned “academia”, I meant the famous scientists who are put up on pedestals. People like Dawkins. It’s almost certain that those who take risks lose out on opportunities and exposure. I have so much admiration for them, even if I’m not interested in their particular ideas.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have admiration for those who’ve taken risks, too. Tremendous admiration, and appreciation, too. And I didn’t interpret your comment to mean you have the type of simplistic view that assumes all academics are bad or missing the mark or something. I see you as much more sensitive and thoughtful than that. I felt like clarifying personally, so my own comments would not be misinterpreted. It’s worth noting that I also have tremendous admiration for your own willingness to explore your own path, and to live a life of your own merits and consequence, and for the wisdom you’ve gained thereby. Thank you for sharing in this conversation with me. It is greatly appreciated.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. smiling to this discourse on honesty, Michael!
    as i’m honestly not an intellectual & won’t attempt
    to discriminate between the happy-to-be-literate kind
    from the intellectual kind of dishonesty.
    wouldn’t it be nice, er ethical imperative,
    if scientific papers and presentations
    were expected to include full disclosure
    of wealth, power, fame &/or other trinkets gained,
    already paid or expected from the “research”.
    as i await the next installment,
    i’ll enjoy quenching thirst from a pitcher
    of endlessly defiled & recycled h20 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, David! Yes, I agree with you, but I’m thinking there is actually a certain expectation about declaring funding sources and conflicts of interest and such. I’m not involved in publishing papers but I do think there are some rules of the road in this regard.

      As to your thirst quenching, you’ve got the right idea! It is amazing to me how well nature does recycle things. The delicate balance in which we reside is a continuous source of wonder and appreciation, isn’t it?

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Michael,

    You’ve touched on similar thoughts to my own and I’ve only recently come to know the way in which homeopathy operates as well as some of the research (as you mentioned) that has been done. I completely agree with you that if an observation cannot be explained, means it doesn’t exist is a ludicrous position to have. I suppose most scientists would try to endlessly formulate how that observation CAN be explained given it has been observed. However, in doing so we would also like to hold onto our preexisting explanations. We want to formulate theories which explain everything else plus this new anomalous observation. It can be a frustrating exercise especially if you are convinced you KNOW how things ought to and do work. Which is the case I find with radical skeptics like Richard Dawkins. His stance rises out of his prior convictions to ideas. Otherwise, as a theoretically and scientific exercise, it seems appealing that things don’t make sense.
    He is not taking about something which is in his area of expertise (animal behavior and evolutionary biology). He is putting forward his view on this phenomenon and his view is no more significant or valid than any other view, except that he is a public figure. This is where I see the dishonesty you are talking about, those who are actually entitled to speak to us (the lay masses) about this phenomenon are scientists who have been involved in the experiments and scientific work investigating this phenomenon on both sides.
    If two experts who investigate this cannot agree on the results then me, you or Richard Dawkins likely have nothing more to add than perhaps this reflection on epistemology we are doing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Fizan,

      Thanks for your note! I don’t think it’s a bad thing necessarily that scientists would seek to either a) explain new observations in light of known theories, or b) invent new theories to explain new observations. That is the way science progresses I think. The difficulty is when new observations are dismissed out of hand because the challenge they pose to received ideas. I agree with you that from the bystander’s perspective it can be pretty appealing to delve into new territory! But also, I respect the fact that new observations must be greeted with skepticism. It’s when the skepticism becomes a theoretical dogma that the scientific virtue is lost.

      And I’m generally in agreement with you on the experts, but in this case there were experts working outside of standard scientific channels. There is a blindspot to this I think. Johann Grander was called a crackpot by all sorts of science-minded folks, and it was really interesting to observe. One of the most interesting outcomes I had of attending a scientific conference on the subject of water was the opportunity to give a Grander Technology device to DJ Morre, whose work I wrote about once here. (Nothing on the web ever disappears, right!?) He later corresponded with me that he observed some really interesting phenomena in his laboratory that he had not expected when using the device. There were many, many validations of water’s ability to receive and transmit biologically active information that I witnessed, which is why it was so difficult to watch that video.

      The reality is that science doesn’t always have the high ground on expertise, either. While generally it does, and now it will take over the lead role in researching these issues, they were brought to the fore by heretics, essentially. You’re right about the way our prior convictions can make us reluctant to change course. But I also see that as the ethic of science.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Great information you are relaying to us Michael, thankyou… I’ve always felt that mr Darwin’s hoped he was talking to a lazy and gullible audience… thank goodness more and more people are feeling into what is really true… and stepping up their game and discovering new information. Love barbara x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Barbara. I suspect Dawkins was quite confident in his stance–thinking he was absolutely correct and because of his correctness well within his rights to portray the matter as he pleased. The issue of how scientific experts communicate with society at large is an important one, and this type of work certainly doesn’t engender trust along those lines. I doubt there will ever be a shortfall in those drawn to pursue a deeper truth, and for all who work in the vein, I am quite grateful.

      Peace and Love, my friend–
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I’m sure he was confident in his correctness as many scientists feel about their own fact findings… but quantum physics teaches us that depending on the perception of the experiencer the experience changes. Surely Darwin knows this but chose to ignore it, hoping to get only his point across.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Clearly this is an interesting thread of thoughts (to me) that I look forward to receiving what I can from exploring it. I am intrigued how recently my husband introduced me to a Sam Harris podcast on Waking Up, and I had time to listen for an hour, surprisingly engaging subject, “what is true.” I can easily imagine how you are listening to this podcast regularly these days. I do think I have to reread this to see what you were saying in many ways, besides the Dawkin’s commentary, and his manner of delivery in hyperbole to make his point, and where you presented what you state you’ll ignore as the “most obvious fallacy.” I’ll have to check back to see the video, too. Not as interesting to me. Basically this thread doesn’t seem too long, it’s wonderfully interesting. It seems like there is a lot to comment on but nothing is particularly urgent at this time. Grateful that you’ve opened up this dialogue, as it’s interesting to be a non-participating observer for now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ka, well firstly I’m glad you enjoyed it and found the content interesting. Water is, for me, the bridge between what we call non-living matter and living matter. It brokers that transition beautifully, and so in some sense could be seen as the original form of life, for we find within its internal dynamics self-ordering processes predicated upon a dynamic exchange of energy with the surrounding environment. Each time I’ve discovered a new and more appealing definition of life, I’ve found replications of those dynamics appearing in water. It’s truly a fascinating topic, as is life itself! Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Ka. I hope the series continues to be of interest.

      With Love and Gratitude
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interested might be an understatement, but that (awareness of understatement) might be more my intuition than even my knowledge of all the connections. Water is easily the connector. It’s interesting in its polarity and its shape. Thank you so very much for all that you introduce me to as I connect the dots almost literally, and also find my way back to, and forward with, so much that’s waiting to be revealed and consistently offered. I mean this in terms of water and neural pathways and so many fascinating inroads to what I have been up so, and so have you, and your interests – you have shared on topics previously that I am expanding into and moving closer towards, but still can barely grasp… let alone recognize, and maybe I never will. Regardless, it’s a joy. Happy Sunday to you Michael, ~ love and gratitude, Ka

        Liked by 1 person

  7. as if fake news isn’t the topic of choice these days….I always take what I read with a grain of salt so to speak, and try not to read negative or watch negative things so as not to upset the apple cart of my universe 🙂 nice piece my friend, even if a lot of it flew right over my head like a cuckoo heading for it’s nest 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel the same in some ways, Kim. You wonder at some point how much outside information is actually all that informative. There’s a middle ground between trusting your own heart and ignoring the world completely, and I think we’ve each got to figure out where that is, and where our creative desires most clearly wish to express. Somehow, I think if we each follow our hearts to what we wish to express and give to one another, things will work out… 🙂

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: The Life of Water, Part 1 – Embracing Forever

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