The reality we manage to get into our heads is largely that reality which is abstracted through our symbol systems.


Time-binding: The uniquely human ability to build on the accumulated knowledge of others, potentially to an exponential degree.

Sun 16 May

“Enemies of Science”

A discussion on Professor Richard Hawkins’ program “Enemies of Science”,
and how it attempts to present the lack of science in therapeutic medicine.

Led by Dion


1. Catching Up & Introductions
2. GS Diary Reports - "Our GS Experiences"
3. “Enemies of Science” – Viewing and discussion
4. AGS Business
5. Close.

1. Catching-up

We “always” allow a little time for review of our lives and activities.

2. GS Diary Reports - "Our GS Experiences"

Some of us experienced events in the month past, which demonstrated the value, and perhaps some limitations, in the applications of GS principles. Sharing of these is a valuable part of our time together.

3. “Enemies of Science” – Viewing and discussion

Dion presented the DVD program “Enemies of Science (Part 2), in which Richard Dawkins challenges “superstitious” beliefs and behaviours stemming therefrom, in this case relating to “supplementary therapies” (also, loosely known as “alternative medicine” or “complementary therapies” etc). The following are some notes of your scribe (RJ); certainly not representing the views of all participants, or of the AGS:

a. Dawkins had quite a gentle but strongly mocking style of interviewing practitioners of various complementary therapies, listening carefully to their claims and acknowledging some benefits (“Oh yes, this massage feels beneficial for me … !”). We savoured claims like “If you see inside this pearl, you could find out who you really are.”, and noted that it’s unlikely to e a particularly accurate map-territory relationship.

b. I loved the one where a “waving of hands” process was to increase the subject (Dawkins)’s number of DNA strands from two to twelve in a matter of weeks, with unspecified benefits. The twelve strands were to be arranged as four triangles, pointing inwards. Sadly, Dawkins did not appear to explore the mechanism of this process, or undergo later testing to determine the outcome.

c. Apparently one-third of the UK population spend 1,200,000 pounds sterling (I don’t have a “pound” key) on “alternative therapies”, so it is big business. However, there was no definition of “alternative therapies” offered during the program. I wonder if the plethora of massage techniques, for example, are mainstream or alternative.

d. One example that fermented debate was the decline in vaccinations in Britain, Australia and elsewhere, due to diminished public concern for diseases such as whooping cough and polio, and occasional (largely unwarranted) scares about possible side effects. We (“the public”) are not good at managing medical risks such as balancing the risk of vaccination side-effects against the risk of getting the disease.

e. We loved Dawkins’ admonishment “We should be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brain falls out!”

f. We generally agreed that “Individual scientists may be honest or dishonest, competent or incompetent, but the discipline of Science, with its safeguards of peer review and testing of evidence, is incomparably competent at achieving verifiable outcomes.”

g. I agreed with Dawkins’ repugnance for the use of well-defined terms for vague and misleading purposes (“vortex”, “energy centres”, “magnetism of personal attraction” etc).

h. I thought that Deepac Chopra handled Dawkins’ challenge quite well. He suggested that expressions like “quantum effect” applied to spiritual phenomena were really a metaphor rather that a literal mapping of the ineffable – “Mechanistic science is inadequate.”

i. Homeopathy received a particular grilling. Dawkins pointed out that a 10C dilution of a beneficial supplement is “roughly” equivalent to not a drop in the ocean, but more like a drop in the Solar System. So a spoonful would not normally include even a single molecule of the active ingredient.

j. There was some indignation expressed about the unfair disparity in requirements for testing of new medicines (years of double-blind trials, millions of pounds), as opposed to homeopathic remedies.

k. The power of the placebo was considered and discussed at some length – How much of our real healing really comes from our own state of mind-emotion?

l. In essence: “Skeptical, rational enquiry is always the best approach”.

~ 0 ~

Our reflections (arguments etc) revolved around three themes:

a. Dawkins’ assertions regarding the dangers and real costs of acting on “superstitions” and “un-scientific” decision-making processes,

b. The style, efficacy and integrity of Dawkins’ presentation (“… aligns himself with Science but subjects us to rhetoric … “), and appearing in a white coat in order to reinforce his stature as a man of science?

c. The challenge for us to utilise GS principles and formulations in resisting “superstition-based” decision-making, while remaining open to the new and unknown (and the “transcendent”?). We were reminded of the warning by the physicist Richard Feynman: “If you think you understand quantum theory, then you don’t!” I wonder if the same applies to General Semantics?

4. ~ AGS Business ~

AGS National Conference 27-29 August 2010: Finalising subjects for presentation, Participation of “the public”, Budget. UN Conference 30 August - 1 September 2010 – “Global Health” David’s application for our participation with a “stall”, Content and presenters for our presentations (if invited)?, Support from IGS with books, pamphlets etc.

5. ~ Close ~

Next Meeting: Sun 20 June at the AGS Sydney Headquarters, Bonnet Bay

(Updated 17 May 2010)