Seed sent me a copy of this book, What We Believe but Cannot Prove : Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and I’ve been browsing. It’s a collection of short essays (sometimes very short) on assumptions held by individual thinkers without solid evidence. It’s thought-provoking, even where I think the writer is a dingbat (Ray Kurzweil) or blithering banalities (Kevin Kelly). I rather liked Brian Goodwin’s essay on the fallacy of the nature-nurture problem, but so far, my favorite is one by the author Ian McEwan:
What I believe but cannot prove is that no part of my consciousness will survive my death. I exclude the fact that I will linger, fadingly, in the thoughts of others, or that aspects of my consciousness will survive in writing, or in the positioning of a planted tree or a dent in my old car. I suspect that many contributors to Edge will take this premise as a given—true but not significant. However, it divides the world crucially, and much damage has been done to thought as well as to persons, by those who are certain that there is a life, a better, more important life, elsewhere. That this span is brief, that consciousness is an accidental gift of blind processes, makes our existence all the more precious and our responsibilities for it all the more profound.
It’s short and obvious, and at first I was critical—hey, it’s not that belief that should bear the burden of providing evidence—but he’s quite right on that matter of a crucial division. There’s also more to it than just a belief in life after death. Are we going to be ruled by reason and the weight of evidence, or are we going to choose to believe in that which makes us most comfortable and reinforces our prejudices?