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Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis
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Amy Hungerford
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James Wood
Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole - Stephen Law

Interesting in a textbook sort of way.

Law’s interests lie in ‘intellectual black holes,’ those systems of belief which defy reason and thwart discourse that challenges those beliefs; his goal with this book is to, “help immunize readers against…some key tricks of the trade by which such self-sealing bubbles of belief are made.” All well and good, however, Beyond Belief will, at times, sound more like a diatribe against some of those beliefs (especially religion) and less like the rhetoric/logic/debate/critical thinking text one might expect. The downside of using so many religious examples is that Law might lose the religious reader before he/she arrives at a point where they might see themselves in the examples provided and said readers might too quickly write this volume off as another Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris anti-religious screed. That’d be a shame.

Law proceeds to define eight strategies which thwart or undermine discussion, attempts to explain ‘what is wrong’ with those strategies, and provides examples of their usage. Some readers (this reader) would have preferred the traditional logic/rhetoric name for the types of strategy being discussed to Law’s renaming them; he does, for instance, mention apophasis, but does not discuss equivocation as such. I mention this only because the text might have been more useful to students.

Oddly, Law regularly attempts to distance himself from appearing to bash ideas in favor of speaking to the logical/rhetorical devices at play, i.e. he often takes a sort of ambivalent stance toward the idea, while the rhetorical defense is pretty thoroughly trounced, almost necessarily making the idea itself questionable.

Among the things I found interesting was a discussion of ‘the H.A.D.D. hypothesis’— a hyperactive agency detector device—a possible evolutionary explanation of the prevalence of believing in things unseen (gods, spirits, contact with the dead, etc.). In a nutshell, this ‘agency detector device’ kicks in when someone hears something behind him or sees a shadow cross over them or in any way senses the presence of an agent that could be harmful—natural selection favors inheritable traits, and traits that keep one safe endure. Attempting to be Switzerland on HADD, Law says simply there might be something to it. Discussion of evidentiary evil and the point at which it becomes gratuititous (skeptical theism) is frequently visited. And, in what could be a final sort of insult to Christians, Law includes a section called The Tapescrew Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Guru, in which, an older aunt, Tapescrew, advises her nephew, Woodworm, on capturing and retaining his first mind. C.S. Lewis fans don’t have to be concerned with a compelling novella here, but some might find using Lewis in this way is, well, unholy.

Further info at http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/