I haven’t given the “Big Think” website another thought since I first encountered it some years ago. It’s a website that, according to an article in the New York Times, was intended to be a kind of intellectual YouTube, and to “do for intellectuals what YouTube, the popular video-sharing site, did for bulldogs on skateboards,” and this morning Jerry has a comment on a post at “Big Think” by an evolutionary psychologist named Satoshi Kanazawa in which he which tears Kanazawa apart limb by limb, indicating how seriously downmarket Big Think seems to have become. I won’t comment on either Jerry’s comment, or Kanazawa’s original post, except to say that for someone to say that he knows for sure that God doesn’t exist (as Kanazawa does), and yet goes on to say that he is not an atheist, is quite simply (without further qualification) to contradict himself. However, I’ll put that aside, because I wasn’t going to write anything at all today until I came upon another of Kanazawa’s posts over at what we must now call, I think, “Big Flop,” if Karazawa is representative of the level of intellectual sophistication to be found there.
This post (an older one) is about Bertrand Russell, whom Kanazawa calls “the original scientific fundamentalist.” Indeed, that’s the title of his post: “Bertrand Russell: The Original Scientific Fundamentalist,” and it’s quite hard to believe that anyone could possibly misunderstand so badly a few thoughtful remarks of a remarkable intellect. Here’s the video of the comments by Russell that Karazawa so badly misunderstands:
And here are Karazawa’s comments. On the first point, about Russell’s emphasis on the facts and the truth that the facts bear out, Karazawa says:
I could not have said it better my own damn self. Bertrand Russell is the original Scientific Fundamentalist.
But this is just silly. Russell says nothing at all about science. He just speaks about the facts, and the truth those facts bear out. In other words, believing what is true is important. Believing things because it is thought that so believing would be socially beneficial is simply irrational behaviour. It is always better that our lives should accord with what is true. This doesn’t make Russell a scientific fundamentalist; it makes him a philosopher. There is no suggestion, nor should we expect one from Russell, who was, amongst other things. a mathematician and logician, a social and political activist, a philosopher, as well as an educational theorist, that the only source of facts is science. Indeed, he speaks of occasions “when you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy,” with not a word about science at all. Not, of course, that Russell did not recognise the importance and value of science. But Karazawa takes these few words as the basis for his claim that Russell is a scientific fundamentalist, and the words simply do not bear him out. As Russell says, it’s better to base yourself on the facts, and the truth that the facts bear out. And what, really, does Karazawa mean by his inapposite remark that he couldn’t have said it better?
Then there is the remark that he makes about the moral point that Russell wished to make about the wisdom of love and the foolishness of hate, and, with that, the importance of tolerance in an interconnected world. He begins by saying that Russell might be called the original hippie, which is so completely irrelevant. As a member of the Bloomsbury Group, Russell was certainly what might have been termed an aristocratic bohemian, but never someone who simply dropped out like a hippie, because Russell was always so politically and ethically involved. But then Karazawa goes on again to simply commit a big blooper. He says, quite irrelevantly to anything that Russell says:
It’s funny that Russell thought that people were getting more and more closely interconnected in 1959. What would he have thought of the iPhone and Twitter?
But Russell doesn’t say that people were getting more closely interconnected. He says quite clearly that the world is becoming more closely interconnected. He’s speaking about the world shrunk by speed of travel and communication, in which people from different cultures and historical backgrounds confront each other more often, and where differences of belief and practice, being thrown together, have the capacity for creating social conflict, and, therefore, where toleration will be an important virtue in order to enable us to live together in peace.
And that’s really all I wanted to say, where initially I had intended to say nothing today at all. But, really, I have never read something which is so completely based on misunderstanding, as this short post by Satoshi Karazawa, and I needed to say it to someone. Big Think needs to give some thought to its content, or it will become a Big Flop.