Faith in Probability

Following the publishing of his first book–Sum: Forty Tales from the AfterlivesDavid Eagleman is interviewed about religion and his beliefs, providing a refreshingly new and… empirical… take on religious faith, atheism and agnosticism.

Every time you go into a book store, you find a lot of books written with certainty – you find the atheist and you find the religious and everybody is acting like they know the answer. I think what a life in science really teaches you is the vastness of our ignorance. We don’t really understand most of what’s happening in the cosmos. Is there any afterlife? Who knows. We don’t have any evidence for it. We don’t have any evidence against it. The thing that has always surprised me is that people are always acting as though they know the answer. […] As Voltaire said, “uncertainty is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is an absurd position”. […]

I call myself a possibilian. The idea with possibilianism is to explore new ideas and to shine a flashlight around the possibility space to really understand what the size of that space is. The idea is not to commit to any particular story, it’s not the end goal to say “OK, we’re going to figure it out and commit to it” because it’s simply past the toolbox of science. The best we can do, and I find it a wonderful pursuit, is to just try and understand what the possibilities are. […]

I don’t have a belief system, I only have a possibility system!

Sum is the first work of ‘speculative fiction’ by Eagleman, a neuroscientist specialising in the study of time perception and synesthesia.

via @mocost



3 responses to “Faith in Probability”

  1. I like what he stands for, but I tried reading Sum a few months back and really disliked it. I felt like every story was pushing too hard for a light bulb moment where as readers we were supposed to feel inspired. For me, it felt forced, a bit preachy and utterly lifted me out of the fantasy of the story.

    I’d be curious to know what you thought of the book.

  2. That’s a pity—I have not yet read Sum but did have high hopes for the book after reading this interview. Eagleman comes across as very moderate and methodical… two traits I always admire.

    It is, however, toward the front of my ever-expanding reading list and I’ll definitely come back with a response once it’s read.

    I feel that what you describe (forced, preachy, and pushing just that little bit too hard for a ‘light bulb moment’) is all too common in books looking at religion and ‘new atheism’ from a moderate viewpoint. It’s kind of annoying…

  3. I finished reading Sum around mid-August and remember it as more enjoyable as it was, it appears.

    After reading Sum, I gave the book three and a half stars out of five on LibraryThing and didn’t even bother to write a review (unusual for me).

    I look back on the book as a novel exercise in philosophy and not at all religious. I think back and remember maybe five or six of the forty short stories and believe that they were thoroughly enjoyable and creative. Intelligent and thought-provoking? Not so much. Creative and original? Definitely.

    However, looking back now with the knowledge that I only gave it these three and a hlaf stars, I realise that, at the time, I did feel that it came across, as Amy said, a tad preachy and try-hard-ish at times.

    I don’t think I would re-read it, but I would definitely recommend it as a short and interesting read.