Why I am a Possibilian

Why I am a Possibilian Christine Tremoulet

In my opinion, our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true.

So I call myself a possibilian. Possibilianism emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story. If you want to know more about this point of view, see the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

Here are a couple of photos from my TEDxHouston talk, "On Uncertainty". In this talk I argued why possibilianism is not only a hopeful position, but the most rational one.

photo courtesy of Blue Lemon Photo
photo by Blue Lemon Photo

And here's a talk on possibilianism that I delivered at the School of Life in London.

Not everyone is a fan of possibilianism. After possibilianism began to spread widely on the web, the neo-athiest Sam Harris wrote to ask me if I would like to publically discuss the idea with him. I had read some of Harris' writings and quite liked them, so I agreed. I was interested to understand where our positions were compatible and where they differed. But Harris' response (in the form of a letter to me on his blog) attacked possibilianism on the grounds that I was "confused", an "accomodationist", and "intellectually dishonest". I took the pugilism of his opening salvo as a indicator of the utility that I would get from attempting a meaningful back-and-forth dialog with him. (Strangely, as indicated by a later blog of his, he seemed surprised that I hadn't taken the time to write him back.) It's not that I don't admire his writing (I do), or that I don't value public debate (I welcome it). It's simply that, in this case, Harris' braggadocio appeared to be emblematic of the neo-atheist posture, and confirmed why I don't feel completely at home in that camp. In other words, when I received his overly-aggressive opening shot, I thought: "Tada. This is precisely why a third voice is needed."
 

Leave a comment

From the Blog

  • Breivik's Brain
    Breivik's Brain

    What could explain Anders Breivik's shooting attack in Oslo, Norway? While this is debated from the angles of politics, religion, and sociology, I want to ask this from the viewpoint of neurobiology.

  • James Holmes’ Brain: Some Initial Speculations
    James Holmes’ Brain: Some Initial Speculations

    In the wake of the Aurora movie theater shooting, many people had the same questions: What kind of derangement is indicated by the horrific acts of James Holmes? What is wrong with his brain? How will his mental state play out in the courts?

  • CNN's Next List - video profile
    CNN's Next List - video profile

    I was recently named a CNN Next List Fellow. Watch two clips from the show.

  • Discovering amulets inside the mummy
    Discovering amulets inside the mummy

    I recently posted about my scanning of a 3,000 year old mummy, Neskhons. Now, by analyzing the data in several different ranges of electron density, I've found something unexpected: inside the mummy's torso are 4 small funerary amulets.

Newsflashes

Science Educator Award

David has won the Science Educator Award from the Society of Neuroscience.

McGovern Award for excellence in Communication

David was honored to receive the 2014 John J. McGovern Award for Excellence in Biomedical Education from the American Medical Writers' Assocation. Noted past recipients include authors Oliver Sacks and Abraham Verghese.

Neurolaw: The Brain on Trial

Want to know how neuroscience will force major changes in our criminal justice system? Read David's article The Brain on Trial in The Atlantic. Now anthologized in 2012 Best American Science and Nature Writing.
atlantic072011

You are here:   HomeBlogWhy I am a Possibilian


Coming Soon