Sunday 5 May 2013

De La Mare, Gray, Sheldrake

It's not often you hear the name of the deeply unfashionable poet, storyteller, anthologist and man of letters Walter De La Mare invoked these days. But in a rather brilliant Point of View talk on Radio 4 this morning, John Gray used one of De La Mare's stories as the starting point for a pithy critique of the materialist view of reality.  Interestingly, although there is nothing the least bit kooky or New Age about Gray, his argument here is very much along the lines laid out in Rupert Sheldrake's The Science Delusion. There's a transcript of Gray's talk here. Enjoy...


  1. Joey Joe Joe Jr.5 May 2013 at 21:36

    The problem is, I reckon, is that what Gray means by "material", scientists understand as "experimentally demonstrable", and for them dwell on anything else, well, isn't really their job. And as for the idea that science as a project aims to "exorcise" all non-materialistic ideas, doesn't he rather undermine his point when he talks of the axiomatic shifts that have occurred in our world-view concerning the nature of matter, "quantum leaps", life, the universe and everything? For this to be the case surely Science doesn't hold what is currently thought of as 'material' all that dearly. Sorry, Nige, I'm usually all for people believing what they will, 'material' or not, but find it rather odd when people like John Gray bemoan Science for simply doing what Science does - that is following the evidence nature provides, whether it includes ghosties or not.

  2. I caught that too nig, beautiful, whimsical nonsense...just the thing after Sunday Worship!

  3. Ah if only it did Joey - follow the evidence, that is, and stick to the 'experimentally demonstrable', rather than turning itself into a monolithic dogmatic philosophy that denies the reality of almost everything in our everyday experience of life. Something is very wrong with the present state of affairs, and I'm glad Gray's on to it too.
    Oh and part of the problem is precisely that the 'axiomatic shifts' you mention - which tend to undermine certainty about the material world - haven't been assimilated by the hardline materialists, who just seem to get more and more strident in their assertion of what can only be a provisional position. If it's science, that is - but is it?

  4. The real difference between the scientific and other approaches to reality is in the form of their assertions. Scientific claims must always be, as you say Nige, provisional and falsifiable (see Popper). The history of science is replete with overturnings and modifications of theories (e.g. classical and relativistic mechanics). Non-scientific claims are not subject to this constraint and as a result are much more resistant to change. Lacking a formal method for resolving differences, ideological and religious antagonists frequently resort to vitriol and even violence. This distinction between science and non-science is not necessarily fully congruent with the distinction between materialist and non-materialist views of reality. For example, as a Catholic, I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, which is a material, but non-scientific, claim about reality. This belief is an issue of faith, not science.