Saturday, May 28, 2005

good morning, comments on SSE

This morning, I am feeling pretty good, and it's time I wrote some thoughts about the SSE meeting over the weekend.

The much anticipated article in Time magazine has come out, and it's nothing special at all. In fact, I was surprised at how snugly it fit in much of the coverage of PEAR's work. You'd think people would get tired of writing in the exact same way. At the conference, I was somewhat impressed with Michael Lemonick's explanation of the way he goes about verifying his articles. I could see how it was sound reasoning, even if systematically biasing against disenfranchised groups. At the conference he came off as justifying why journalists don't make a better attempt to understand, but in the end his justification came off as mostly reasonable. TIME is the mainstream, after all.

Criticisms of the article: plenty of "this is silly stuff" spin (first sentence says "this stuff makes scientists cringe", article goes on to mention lunatics, Bozo the clown, relative poverty of the researchers, ...), no mention of data, comparisons with mainstream science for robustness of
data. No mention of possible conclusions, or any of the real interesting bits, like the dependencies that effects seem to ride on.

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Enough of that.

There were many levels to my experience at the conference -

1. I was stressed out and really hectic busy because I was responsible for video stuff, and there wasn't much organization to facilitate that. In fact, there was a lot of mis-communication that made things more difficult and made the product less than perfect.
2. The people there were pretty wonderful. I really enjoyed meeting so many of those folks.
3. Many of the talks didn't really interest me, or were too abstract, or were just rambling. I much preferred my one-on-one conversations with people.
4. There was one representative of a "skeptical organization", Eric Krieg. Though he seemed like a nice guy, and I applaud him for going to the conference, he lacked a basic understanding of the statistical methods being used and the claims being put forward. That's pretty unfortunate.
5. There was an undercurrent of Belief - or if not outright belief, then complete tolerance. As Brenda put it, "the SSE will challenge you to be open minded."

Although I am a believer in many things, I felt like I was in the 'non-believer' camp at the meeting, and that I was trying to hide it. I did feel uncomfortable with some of the topics that SSE encompasses - I was almost hesitant to start conversations for fear that I wouldn't be
able to respond seriously.

If I had ever had a compelling experience with ghosts, or aliens, or weeping icons, or the loch ness, then maybe I'd have an interest. But I haven't. I almost regret saying this because a part of me loves exploring the strange and the new, but I don't feel like I should try to investigate weirdness for the sake of weirdness.

For me right now, it comes down to this - I have no desire to join the SSE. More so than my curiosity-seeking compels me, the unifying principle of "fringe" disquiets me.

In the end, I want my interests to be admissible to the mainstream. Maybe it's just because I haven't yet tried to enter the public sphere that I don't understand the value of the SSE. I'm sure if my interests and research had been rejected time and time again by journals that
should be publishing me, I would be pretty frustrated and grateful to an organization like the SSE. But from my perspective now, it seems that though the association between all these researchers of the anomalous may provide some amount of camaraderie, it also contributes to a mutually reinforcing lack of credibility with the mainstream. That's one part of my hesitation.

The other part, of course, is that I have no developed interest in many of the topics discussed. Though I should say that I enjoyed the perspectives on consciousness that were present at the meeting. Still, the SSE is not the only place that one can discuss consciousness-related
phenomena, and I don't feel I'm ready to blend my interests with the entirety of the SSE community.

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DEAR SSE,

You're great folks, and I appreciate the hospitality, but I'm not ready for you yet. Good luck. I'll see you around the bend.

love,
aaron.

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